By MARGARET UKPABIO
Hansen’s disease, called after Dr Gerhard Armauer Hansen, the Norwegian scientist who first discovered Mycobacterium leprae in 1873, is popularly known as Leprosy.
Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases recorded in history. Even though curable, is still a significant health problem in many parts of the world.
According to Leprosy Mission International, the disease is at least forty thousand years old, making it one of the oldest diseases known to humanity.
In Nigeria, leprosy situation revealed an annual new case detection of four thousand people, a Grade two disability rate of twelve percent and nearly ten percent child ratio among new cases, and remains a disease of public health importance in the country.
However, the country is faced with the reality of low endemicity; a declining financial allocation to leprosy control; and a pervasive loss of expertise.
Here in Akwa Ibom State, WHO’s Multi-Drug Therapy, MDT was introduced in the state since 1982. By December 1993, the State had achieved hundred percent MDT coverage of clinics situated in the mainland parts of the state.
Following the implementation of MDT, the registered prevalence of leprosy in the state decreased from about two thousand patients in 1982 to two hundred and twenty five by October 1997, and keeps declining till date.
In spite of significant improvements in leprosy treatment and outlook for patients since the introduction of multidrug therapy many decades ago, the global incidence still remains high across the world, and patients often have long-term complications associated with the disease.
Notwithstanding, it is believed that this generation can end the transmission of leprosy as target is zero transmission by 2035.
Experts say that leprosy spreads through contact with the mucosal secretions of a person with the infection. This usually occurs when a person with leprosy sneezes or coughs. The disease is not highly contagious. However, close or repeated contact with an untreated person for a longer period of time can lead to contracting leprosy.
The World Health Organization, WHO, categorises the disease based on the type and number of affected skin areas such as Paucibacillary, multibacillary and Ridley-Jopling classification.
Data published by WHO in September 2021 for the calendar year 2020 showed a drop in new cases of thirty seven percent on the previous year. This is clear that, in many countries, measures against leprosy, including case detection and treatment, have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to experts, delayed diagnosis and treatment may lead to serious complications like disfigurement, hair loss, particularly on the eyebrows and eyelashes, permanent nerve damage in the arms and legs, inability to use hands and feet, among other complications.
It has been to find solutions to this problem that World Leprosy Day takes place every 30th of January. The day is organised by organisations of people affected by leprosy and leprosy-focused NGOs, including The Leprosy Mission, and is an opportunity to lift up the voices of people affected by leprosy throughout the world.
The 2022 theme for World Leprosy Day is ‘United for Dignity’. The campaign honours the lived experiences of individuals who have experienced leprosy, by sharing their empowering stories; advocating for mental wellbeing and the right to a dignified life free from disease-related stigma.
It is evident that the world’s desire for dignity, all round peace, prosperity, sustainability and an end to poverty or sicknesses has reached an unparalleled moment of necessity.
The Media, Organisations, Institutions, Philanthropists and Private Individuals should help create awareness on the need to team up to help victims of leprosy than stigmatise them, and help them have information that leprosy treatment is free across the world.
Since the Day is an opportunity to celebrate the lives of those affected by this sickness, raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease, and tackle the stigma that often surround leprosy, there is the need for everyone to rise up, and unite in order to completely eradicate leprosy in the world.
Even though so much have been done by concerned persons, groups and organizations, celebrating this day is another opportunity to raise more money for the purpose of helping leprosy victims and also eliminate the transmission of leprosy.
It is necessary for Nigeria to re-organise its leprosy control services to further reduce the burden of the disease and ensure quality care to people affected by leprosy.
In celebrating the day this year, everyone should bear in mind the words of Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, ‘We are the only creatures on Earth that have been given the ability to reason, Let us use our reason to confront the stigma that persons affected by leprosy face, cure society of the disease of discrimination and stop repeating the mistakes of the past’, and team up to eradicate leprosy in the world