Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Experts focus on eradicating leprosy
Microscopic picture of Mycobacterium leprae, the bacillus causing leprosy
An international congress on leprosy has started on Monday to discuss progress in eradicating the disease by the year 2000.
One million people are affected by leprosy - medical experts, NGOs and government delegates from over 70 countries are debating health and social issues as well as reviewing progress towards eradication, which is defined as a level of prevalence below one case per 10 000 population.
Reading a message from the director general of WHO, the director of the Organisation's Leprosy Elimination Programme, Dr Askin Noodin said that leprosy was also a human rights issue.
"Leprosy affected persons, even after they are cured, still face violations of human rights and they deserve a far better treatment from the society than they receive at present", Dr Noodin Said.
Despite the developments in the medical cure, there have been little change in social perceptions towards leprosy, and cured people with visible deformities continue to face social rejection.
The Beijing International Congress on Leprosy is the 15th since the first such event was held in Berlin in 1897.
A hundred years on, a cocktail of three anti-bacterial drugs called multi-drug therapy, or MDT, can cure sufferers, and many countries, including China, have managed to eliminate the disease completely from their territory.
But in some other countries - mostly in south-east Asia, Africa and Latin America - leprosy still exists, and treatment can be made difficult by poor health services.
Yet India, which is one of the countires worst hit by the disease, is represented at a relatively low level, a fact that clearly disappointed the chief organiser of the congress, Dr Yo Yoasa.
"Originally we had been expecting a minister, a secretary and all three of their five people to come, but at the last moment they have cancelled their trip, and only Dr Davashakta, in charge of leprosy managed to come", he said.
Apart from the medical experts and health politicians, for the fist time, patients afflicted by leprosy are also allowed to participate in the congress