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Corinne Podger reports
"Leprosy is a serious public health threat in 24 countries"
 real 28k

Sunday, 30 January, 2000, 11:30 GMT
Global fight against leprosy

leprosy India is struggling with 500,000 new cases a year

An international fight aimed at cutting the number of leprosy cases is being highlighted on Sunday, World Leprosy Day.

Nearly 3m people have the disease and millions of others will carry its scars for the rest of their lives, although it can now be cured completely with a combination of drugs.

One of the oldest recorded diseases
Caused by a bacteria similar to that which causes tuberculosis
Attacks the nervous system, causing sensory loss
Disease curable

In November last year, the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and the World Health Organisation helped launch a new international effort to fight leprosy.

The Global Alliance for the Elimination of Leprosy brings together governments, drug companies and health agencies.

Over the next six years, it aims to reduce the number of new cases in countries where leprosy is endemic to one or less per 10,000 of population, and to find and cure the world's remaining leprosy patients.

Hands-on help: Many lepers are reluctant to attend clinics

Leprosy is a serious public health threat in 24 countries including Brazil, Madagascar, Angola and Nepal.

However, the greatest burden of the disease is borne by India, with more than 500,000 new cases a year.

Professor Cairns Smith, ILEP medical advisor, said: "Most of these cases tend to come from areas that are poorer, that are less advantaged in terms of social and economic circumstances and perhaps also have the weakest healthcare infrastructure.

"And certainly the national programme in India over the last few years has really been working very hard to improve the coverage of the leprosy programme, to redress that.".

The stigma is so important for leprosy, therefore we need to educate and publicise the facts about leprosy
Angelo Simonazzi

Angelo Simonazzi , secretary-general of the ILEP, says another challenge is to convince people who may be infected to go to a clinic in the first place.

"If you think you've got leprosy, you're not going to the clinic, because you fear that somebody - the doctor or the health worker will tell you you've got leprosy, and you will be stigmatised by your family or the community.

"We need to educate and publicise the facts about leprosy, that it is a curable disease, that it is not so easy to get, and therefore there should be no exclusion for people affected by leprosy."

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See also:
19 Jan 00 |  Health
India targets leprosy
07 Sep 98 |  Medical notes
Leprosy: The facts
15 Oct 98 |  Health
BBC combats leprosy
15 Nov 99 |  Health
Drive to eradicate leprosy
27 Nov 98 |  International
50 years of the WHO - its successes and failures

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