“Leprosy has been eliminated” – Rejoiced India in the year 2005 when cases dropped to less than 1 per 10,000 population. The celebrations were too quick and misjudged. As per World Health Organization, India continues to reel under this dreadful disease even today.
Leprosy and Past
India is said to be the origin of the disease. To give an overview, it is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It mainly targets skin and peripheral nerves. It causes disfiguring of skin/skeleton including generation of lumps and sores.
India and Leprosy History Timeline
India’s fight against hidden diseases started with the year 1955 , soon after independence. The detailed timeline as described below:
- 1955 – Government of India launched National Leprosy Control Program
- 1982 – The MDT ( Multi-drug therapy) came into use following recommendations of WHO
- 1983 – National Leprosy Eradication Program (NLEP) was launched
- 1991 – World Health Assembly resolved to eradicate the disease, Worldwide, by 2000
- 1993-2000 – First phase of World Bank Supported National Leprosy Elimination Project was initiated and completed by the year 2000
- 2001-2004 – Second phase of National Leprosy Elimination Project was started in 2001 and completed in 2004. The Government of India decentralized the NLEP responsibilities to state/UTs through state and district leprosy societies.
- 2002-2004 – India started this disease monitoring along with World Health Organization,International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations in collaboration with the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare.
- 2005 – Leprosy was eliminated as a public health problem at national level in December 2005
- 2005 Onwards – Government of India continues the NLEP
- 2016 – World Health Organization launches Global Leprosy Strategy to eliminate the disease Worldwide by 2020
Disease Control and Government of India
The Government of India increased the budget for National Health Mission in FY 2016-17 for India’s 3 main disease control program : National Vector-Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP); Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme (RNTCP); and National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) are funded under National Health Mission.
Below data shows the total budgetary allocation over the years to National Health Mision.
Comparison of the Disease in India and World
India is, unfortunately, the World Capital of New cases in Leprosy. Read the below graph to understand the comparison of new cases between India and other countries:
India contributes to 60% of new cases of this dreadful disease in the World, YES — 60% !!
The below data shows the new cases registered in India over the last decade. There was a consistent downfall of new cases till 2009 but later on, the new cases increased over the period. However, if you see, over the last decade the data of new cases is consistent despite the population growth over this period. But the number is still alarming with India contributing to 60% of World’s new cases of the disease.
Indian Law and Discriminations
Indian law discriminates the common people and people suffering from this disease.
- Anyone suffering from this disease cannot obtain driving license as per Motor Vehicle Act of 1993.
- Also in few states of India along with Supreme Court order, anyone suffering from Leprosy cannot contest elections in India.
- Also, the patients cannot travel in Railways as per Indian Rail Act of 1990.
- Almost all marriage and divorce laws in India consider leprosy as grounds for divorce with Special Marriage Act of 1954 terming the disease as “Incurable”.
However, Indian laws were drafted much before MDT(Multi Drug Therapy) was introduced, which once administered, has cases of this disease getting cured totally. The Government of India should come up with a large set of amendments to these laws. Such discriminations are against the basic freedom of an individual.
Leprosy Free India and Road Ahead
India along with WHO aims to become disease free by 2020. The new strategy by WHO plans to eradicate the disease completely by 2020. India also monitors the disease on a month to month basis.
People should be aware that it is not that contagious. The disease spreads by coming in constant touch with infectious person’s water droplets. (Nose/mouth). Low immunity, dirty surroundings,poor nourishment are major causes of the disease and hence, it is termed as “Poor Man’s Disease“.
Precaution: Keeping surrounding clean and neat, using toilets rather than going for open defecation, controlling mal-nourishment and thereby increasing immunity in the body can really help. Recently India has developed Leprosy Vaccine and this has brought hope to all the communities to tackle this menace
Cure: Patients already suffering from Leprosy should regularly follow the plan and dosage of MDT(Multi Drug Therapy). It is to be noted that India offers MDT Free of Cost to all patients in association with WHO. The Leprosy Mission Trust India is one of the leading trusts helping cure the disease completely.
Treatment is available at Primary Health Centers (PHCs), Community Health Centers (CHCs), District & Sub-district Hospitals (DH & SDH), and Medical College Hospitals. Treatment of complications of leprosy is done at the secondary and tertiary referral centers run by the government as well as NGOs.
We managed to tackle this hidden disease a few years ago but with no consistent effort, less vigor and mission to solve this menace, Our Nation is crippling with Leprosy again. Time has come to buckle up, take the challenge and fight the disease with full force and eliminate Leprosy by 2020 as we did Polio.
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