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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Leprosy 'will not disappear'
Leprosy patient
There are still many cases of leprosy
Predictions that leprosy will be eliminated in the next few years have been dismissed as over-optimistic by a leading international charity.

The World Health Organization says that once global infection rates have fallen below a certain critical level - one in 10,000 of the population - the disease will disappear naturally.


Leprosy is not going away

Terry Vasey
It says this should happen in three years' time.

But the charity LEPRA says that at least 15 countries still have a serious leprosy problem and the number of overall cases is not falling.

The charity is also concerned that health officials are becoming complacent in their surveillance and treatment of the disease.

It says leprosy is likely to be a significant problem for years to come.

The charity made its declaration at the Congress of the International Leprosy Association (ILA) following the presentation of research compiled by 16 experts on the disease from 11 countries.

Many new cases

Terry Vasey, Chief Executive of LEPRA and President of ILEP (The International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations) said: "Leprosy is not going away.

"Although over 12 million people have been cured in the last 20 years, there are still over 700,000 new cases found each year."

Mr Vasey said he was concerned that WHO assumptions may lead national governments into believing that some services provided for leprosy patients are no longer needed.

He said: "It is imperative that national governments and international agencies like WHO and the World Bank act now.

"We must continue the battle against leprosy, and guarantee the provision of services for people affected by this disease."

Disfiguring disease

Leprosy is caused by a germ similar to that which causes tuberculosis.

It attacks the nerves of the hands, feet and face and, if left untreated can take away the ability to move fingers, toes and eyelids.

It can also destroy the ability to feel pain so those affected are prone to injuries and burns which can result in serious infections, and can ultimately lead to the loss of fingers, toes and sight.

The longer the disease is left undetected, the more likely it is that the deformities, so often associated with leprosy, will occur.

See also:

30 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
30 Jan 00 | Health
07 Sep 98 | Medical notes
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