‘Need to step up research to eradicate leprosy’

Every four minutes, one new case of leprosy is detected in India. The country contributes to 58 per cent of the total number of people affected with the disease across the globe, followed by Brazil with 18 per cent and Indonesia at two per cent. The rest of the world adds up the remaining 20 per cent.

These were the startling facts revealed by Chairman of Lepra UK Sir Ronald.

Accompanied by Lepra UK CEO Sarah Nancollas, he was here to participate in the silver jubilee celebrations of its Indian arm, LEPRA Society. Appreciating LEPRA Society’s work on 47 projects in 144 districts across eight States in India, he said the challenge was controlling the number of new cases.

In a chat with The Hindu , Sir Ronald de Witt said even as people already suffering from leprosy were undergoing treatment, the number of new cases detected every year was a whopping 1.35 lakh in India, against the global number at 2.32 lakh. Awareness and education was sadly inadequate despite the quantum of intervention by voluntary agencies he said. These apart, what would prove effective was early detection and reduction in new cases and deformity cases.

Lepra UK was declared the world’s first exclusive leprosy prevention organisation in the year 1931, seven years after it was established in 1924. The budgeted spend of the international organisation was a whopping six million pounds Sterling, spent primarily on projects in Bangladesh and India, Sir Ronald said. Apart from combat against leprosy, Lepra UK was also actively involved in taking up the fight against other diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, HIV AIDS, blindness, lymphatic filariasis.

Asked about the way forward, Lepra Society’s Chairperson Meena Gupta and Chief Executive J. Subbanna said their two and a half decades-old struggle had indeed paid off dividends in a way but what was required was targeted intervention with the help of Government agencies. Their efforts over the years, Mr. Subbanna said, had led to Government of India declaring Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh as high-endemic and working with renewed focus in these areas.

In one voice though, Sir Ronald, Ms. Sarah Nancollas, Ms. Meena Gupta and Mr. Subbanna summed up, saying that awareness, education and targeted interventions apart, there was a need for concerted efforts to step up research and develop a vaccine. “There is no vaccine for leprosy, remember? The where, why and how and the unknown about the disease continues, with research still going on,” Sir Ronald regretted.

The number of new leprosy cases detected every year is a whopping 1.35 lakh in India, against the global number at 2.32 lakh, says Chairman of Lepra UK

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