Why does leprosy’s eradication call for swift action?

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AS the global community observes World Leprosy Day on January 28, 2024, the imperative to eliminate the stigma surrounding leprosy and uphold the dignity of those affected takes center stage.

The theme for this year, ‘Ending Stigma, Embracing Dignity,’ underscores the pressing need to combat the discrimination, misinformation, and social disorders that have long afflicted individuals living with leprosy.

Leprosy, a treatable disease, continues to inflict immense suffering, particularly in Bangladesh, ranking 6th among 23 countries with high rates of leprosy, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite its treatability, leprosy patients encounter challenges fueled by misconceptions and myths, resulting in discrimination and isolation.

The challenges intensified during the COVID-19 outbreak, as restrictive measures disrupted leprosy programmes, hampering the proper detection of new cases.

Many affected individuals lost their livelihoods, compounding the economic burden they already faced.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and WHO endorsed the initiative to observe World Leprosy Day, stressing the need for collaborative efforts to address the challenges posed by leprosy.

The primary source of stigma stems from the disabilities caused by leprosy, emphasizing the critical importance of timely and proper treatment.

Governments, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, are urged to spearhead mass awareness campaigns and implement measures for early case detection to ensure affected individuals receive prompt treatment.

Despite the absence of discriminatory laws against leprosy sufferers and their families in Bangladesh, inclusion remains a formidable challenge across social, economic, educational, and employment realms.

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The National Leprosy Programme (NLP) reports that the actual number of leprosy cases is more than double the officially detected cases, leading to disability and placing a burden on the country.

The challenges within Bangladesh’s leprosy sector are multifaceted, encompassing financial and manpower inadequacies, a lack of public awareness programmes, and insufficient rehabilitation activities for disabled individuals.

Rights activists working on leprosy issues emphasize the need for increased emphasis, funding, and dedicated staff for leprosy programs to effectively detect and treat cases.

To achieve the goals outlined in the ‘Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030,’ swift action is imperative.

This involves the development of specific plans until 2030, allocating sufficient funds in the national budget, increasing the number of workers, building their capacity, raising social awareness, and actively identifying potential leprosy cases for timely medical care.

Overcoming the challenges in the leprosy sector demands a comprehensive, well-funded, and properly implemented plan.

From central levels to the field, continuous monitoring is crucial to ensure progress toward a leprosy-free world and prevent the physical, mental, and social disabilities caused by this treatable disease.

The urgency of addressing these issues cannot be overstated, especially given the national commitment to achieving zero levels of leprosy by 2030. It is time for immediate and concerted action to make this vision a reality.