On January 30, we observe World Leprosy Eradication Day. It’s a day dedicated to driving the global mission to make the world leprosy-free. Globally, the World Health Organisation and in India, the National Leprosy Eradication Programme has been focusing on getting rid of the disease.
Before we get into what steps the world has been taking to eradicate the disease, let’s understand what Leprosy is. You may have learnt in school that leprosy is caused by bacterial infection. The name of the infecting bacteria is ‘Mycobacterium leprae’.
It’s a disease that initially causes lesions on your skin and if left untreated for a long time, it worsens. A person infected with leprosy can even damage your eyes, feet and hands. It is a deadly disease that is also contagious, which means we need to not only treat the infection but also contain its spread.
In this blog post, let’s explore how the world took steps to eradicate the disease.
Leprosy or as it’s also called, Hansen disease, has been affecting several countries since 300 BC. It has claimed the lives of many. During the 13th century, the spread of the disease was at its peak and it began to reduce from the 16th century. However, complete eradication of the disease was not achieved.
So, several countries got together and decided to spread awareness about the disease and take steps to eradicate it. To bring about the same, in 1954, French philanthropist Raoul Follereau formed the World Leprosy Eradication Day – on the last Sunday of January – to teach people about this ancient disease that is easily curable today.
For several centuries, medical developments did not make sufficient headway in the treatment of the disease and those affected by leprosy were in deep pain and suffering The symptoms of leprosy were terrible and people affected with the M. leprae bacteria were kept away from other people and not treated with dignity. In fact, there were even hospitals especially for them to segregate them from non-leprosy patients.
That’s because there was no real cure to the infections and everyone was scared of contracting the disease. The medical fraternity was constantly trying to find a way to treat the bacterial infection.
They finally had the first breakthrough in 1940, through the antibiotic dapsone. Later, M. leprae started to develop resistance to dapsone. In the early 1960s, two other drugs rifampicin and clofazimine were discovered and added to the treatment.
Eventually, more progress was made with the initiative of the World Health Organization. The treatment for Hansen disease moved on from a single antibiotic drug to multi-drug treatment (MDT). This method of treatment is really successful. The currently-recommended MDT regimen consists of medicines: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine. These drugs kill the bacteria and cure the patient. This treatment lasts six months for mild cases and 12 months for more severe cases.
Since then, the numbers have been reducing significantly. The progress has been so remarkable that currently, 45 countries are leprosy-free.
As we mentioned earlier, the numbers are reducing significantly. From 2018, the total number of new cases added annually, reduced by 37% in 2020. To put things in perspective, in 2018, there were 1.8 lakh new cases and 2020 saw 1.2 lakh new cases. That’s good news, right?
However, there is still a long way to go to reduce global numbers. India, Brazil, Indonesia and a few other countries are still recording a high number of infections. India, for instance, had over 65,000 cases in 2020! We need to reduce those numbers. And the National Leprosy Eradication Programme, along with the WHO’s plan for the next decade will hopefully make more countries leprosy free.
We hope you are now aware of leprosy and the significance of World Leprosy Eradication Day. Can you tell us other significant days that are dedicated to stopping the spread of contagious diseases? Share your answers with us in the comments.
Aparna is a mom, singer and dreamer. At BYJU'S, she writes stories about learning for children. She believes in the power of music, especially ghazal, the magic of the universe and happy learners. When not writing or singing, you will find her intensely engaged in conversations about life and the power of words.
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