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  • 22 Feb 2022
  • 6 min read

For Prelims: Leprosy and Related Initiatives, Covid-19 pandemic, World Bank, SPARSH, Mahatma Gandhi

For Mains: Health, Government Policies & Interventions, Leprosy, Covid-19 pandemic

Why in News?

According to the latest report by the Leprosy Mission Trust India, the Covid-19 pandemic and its ensuing recommendations on social distancing and lockdowns caused a fall of 62.5% in the detection of active leprosy cases between April and September 2020 in four States — Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

  • The second wave has put brakes on the Leprosy Case Detection Campaign and the scope for getting healthcare and disability management services in institutional setup reduced.
  • Further, the pandemic highlighted that the ‘vulnerable population’ is not a homogenous entity. Their vulnerability is sometimes a complex intersection of different social variables: poverty, disability, stigma, exclusion, etc.

What is Leprosy?

  • Bacterial Infection: Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection. It is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium Leprae, which is an acid-fast rod-shaped bacillus.
    • It is also known as Hansen’s Disease.
  • One of Oldest Disease: It is one of the oldest diseases in recorded history, afflicting humanity since time immemorial.
    • A written account of Leprosy dates as far back as 600 B.C.
    • It was well recognized in the oldest civilizations of China, Egypt and India thousands of years ago.
  • Areas of Infection: Skin, Peripheral nerves, Upper respiratory tract and Lining of the nose.
    • It is a disease that leaves a terrifying image in its wake of mutilation, rejection, and exclusion from society.
  • Mode of Transmission: Mainly by breathing airborne droplets from the affected individuals. It can be contacted at any age.
  • Symptoms:
    • Red patches on the skin.
    • Skin Lesion
    • Numbness in arms, hands, and legs.
    • Ulcers on the soles of feet.
    • Muscle Weakness and excessive weight loss.
  • Long Incubation Period: It usually takes about 3-5 years for symptoms to appear after coming into contact with Leprosy causing bacteria. The long incubation period makes it difficult for doctors to determine when and where the person got infected.
  • Cure: Leprosy is curable with the combination of drugs known as Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT).

What are Steps Taken by India for its Eradication?

  • The Government of India started the National Leprosy Control Programme in 1955. It was only in the 1970s that a definite cure was identified in the form of MultiDrug Therapy.
  • The 1st Phase of the World Bank supported National Leprosy Elimination Project started from 1993-94.
  • The National Leprosy Eradication Programme is being continued with Government of India funds from January 2005 onwards.
  • The National Health Policy 2002, Government of India had set the goal of elimination of leprosy i.e. to reduce the no. of cases to < 1/10,000 population by the year 2005.
  • The National Leprosy Eradication Programme achieved the goal of elimination of leprosy as a public health problem, defined as less than 1 case per 10,000 Population, at the National Level in the month of December, 2005.
    • World Health Organisation Global Leprosy strategy document for 2016–2020 calls for promoting inter-sectoral collaboration within countries.
  • In 2017, SPARSH Leprosy Awareness Campaign was launched to promote awareness and address the issues of stigma and discrimination.
    • The measures included in the campaign like contact tracing, examination, treatment, and chemoprophylaxis are expected to bring down the number of Leprosy cases.
    • The special emphasis on women, children and those with disabilities are expected to flush out more hidden cases.
    • In addition to continuing to administer MDT to patients, new preventive approaches such as Chemoprophylaxis and immunoprophylaxis are being considered to break the chain of transmission and reach zero disease status.
  • In 2018 the Supreme Court directed states and the Central government to roll out awareness programmes about leprosy.
    • The court said campaigns should utilise positive images and stories of those who had been cured.
  • In 2019, Lok Sabha passed a bill seeking to remove Leprosy as a ground for divorce.
  • In commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on 2nd October 2019, the NLEP has prepared the comprehensive plan to reduce the grade of disability to less than one case per million people by October 2019.

Source: TH

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