Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a progressive ailment that can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes if left untreated. While transmitted by air through droplets from the nose and mouth, the disease is one of the least infectious diseases in the world, according to a fact sheet from the World Health Organization.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India now accounts for over half the world’s cases of leprosy. India has recorded more than 127,000 fresh cases of leprosy in 2011-12, its federal parliament was told recently.
Junior Health Minister Sudip Bandyopadhyay said the state of Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 24,627 cases, followed by Maharashtra with 17,892 cases and Bihar with 17,801. In 2010, India accounted for 54% of the total number of leprosy cases detected worldwide in 2010.
A.K. Puri of the ministry’s leprosy section said the national leprosy eradication program is supplying free medicines to patients, training doctors to diagnose cases and providing facilities for reconstructive surgery. The government also grants 5,000 rupees to each patient for medical rehabilitation and is conducting awareness programs to change public attitudes toward patients.
Sister Ambrose Kadavelil, who works with leprosy patients inBihar, said they are ostracized by people who are afraid of contracting the disease. This dismissive attitude was a major cause of the lepers’ frequently pathetic condition.
“There is also a need to educate the leprosy patients themselves,” she said, adding that generally they are illiterate, malnourished, unhygienic and ignorant.