The World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom has made a call for the elimination of stigma against Leprosy also known as Hansen’s disease.
The WHO chief said this in a joint statement with WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, in which he emphasized the need to do more to eliminate the stigma associated with leprosy and promote the dignity of those affected by the disease.
“Stigma contributes to hesitancy to seek treatment, putting people at risk of disabilities and contributing to ongoing transmission,” Tedros said.
According to the WHO, Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria that primarily affects the skin and nerves. It is spread through frequent contact with droplets from the mouth or nose of an untreated person. It can be treated through multiple drug therapy; a lack of treatment, however, can lead to disability.
By early 2023, 24 countries had adopted the use of SDR-PEP. This is an effective treatment that reduces the risk of developing the disease after exposure. Similarly, at least 14 countries are well on their way to transmission interruption having recorded 0 new cases in the past 5 years the WHO has said.
Global statistics by the World Health Organization show that there were 9554 new cases of the disease recorded in 2022 alone, 278 of them occurring in children. Shared information from various countries, areas, and territories shows a prevalence of 165,459 cases, 174,087 of them being new cases. Treatment is encouraged as it halts contagiousness.
The WHO chief also pointed out the importance of a world free of the ailment saying, “To achieve a world free of leprosy and the problems it causes, however, medical interventions are not enough. As we move towards interruption of transmission and elimination of leprosy, we must also address the social and psychological aspects of the disease.”
Data from the UN body also shows that some countries in African countries are still recording relatively high numbers. In 2022, the DRC recorded 3720, Angola 890, Uganda 581, Ethiopia 2966, Somalia 2307, South Sudan 995, and Tanzania recorded 1705.
The call comes ahead of World Leprosy Day marked on the last Sunday of every January. This year’s focus is on a person-centered approach that addresses stigma, discrimination psychological and social well-being.