Leprosy a `curse' for most Delhiites

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

NEW DELHI: Its near complete elimination from the Capital's indigenous population is said to be one of the most important achievements in the field of public health in recent times, yet the Delhi Health Department's fight against leprosy seems unable to cure the stigma and social rejection that healed patients remain exposed to for the rest of their lives.

A pilot study in the Capital to gauge public awareness and perceptions about the ailment has revealed that every third graduate in the city holds the belief that leprosy is a "curse".

This despite the four-decade-long targeted awareness campaigns on leprosy by the Delhi Government.

In addition to this, only 33 per cent men and even lesser number of women, 14 per cent, were aware of "pale patches without sensation" as a symptom of leprosy.

Among graduates, too, only one out of three was aware of these symptoms.

The survey, carried out by the Centre for Media Studies, asked people about leprosy, known to be one of the least communicable diseases and 100 per cent curable, and found that "ignorance, reluctant to take back a cured leprosy patients to the mainstream continues and discrimination of cured patients was high in the city,'' said the Centre for Media Studies project manager, Alok Srivastava.

Another disturbing trend that came forth was the fact that of the 90 per cent males and females who were aware that leprosy was curable, every third individual disagreed with the doctors' view that leprosy was the least infectious disease among all infectious one.

Other figures showed that 90 per cent men and a little less than 84 per cent women in Delhi seemed ignorant about symptoms of leprosy and identified "white patches" as one of its symptoms.

More could associate deformation of body parts, like fingers, nose, ears and eyes, with leprosy (male-55 per cent and female-72 per cent).

"This might be due to the fact that mostly people come across leprosy patient with one or the other deformities,'' said a researcher.

"Three out of every five persons also accept that leprosy infected persons are not allowed to lead a normal life. To add to one's dismay, graduates constitute 75 per cent of them. Seventy five per cent people felt that leprosy-infected do not reveal their disease due to fear of not being accepted by society,'' explained Mr. Srivastava.

But the silver lining to the survey was the fact that every third person interviewed during the study knew that 2005 is the `Year of Eliminating Leprosy'.

The study, conducted in March this year, covered the age group of 21-40 years of which 58 per cent were graduates and above, while one-tenth of the surveyed population was less than secondary (Class X) level educated. Most of the men and women interviewed were employed.

Of the rest, among men, around 30 per cent were traders and shopkeepers and around one-fourth of the women interviewed were students and housewives.

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