World Leprosy Day – 28 January

World Leprosy Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in January each year to mark the suffering of people affected by this preventable and curable disease that has eluded defeat.

Of total 216,108 newly diagnosed cases of #leprosy during 2016, 18,472 involved #children, representing almost 9% of all new cases reported annually #BeatLeprosy @WHO @NovartisFDN via @newsletter_php Click to Tweet

For more than 50 years, thousands of people across the globe have stopped to remember those who suffer from leprosy. The goal for World Leprosy Day is to raise the awareness of a disease that many people believe is eliminated. World Leprosy Day helps to focus on the needs of some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world – those affected by leprosy.

Many people think of leprosy as an ancient disease that was eradicated many years ago. Leprosy was globally declared to have been “eliminated as a public health problem” 18 years ago. Elimination of leprosy as public health problem (defined as a registered prevalence of less than 1 case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000. However, pockets of endemicity have continued in many countries. India and Brazil report the highest number of cases annually.

Data published by WHO in 2017 show that although the overall number of cases is slowly declining, that of new cases does not align with global efforts and resources deployed to interrupt transmission. Reports from 145 countries of WHO’s six regions show that of the total of 216,108 newly diagnosed cases of leprosy during 2016, 18,472 involved children, representing almost 9% of all new cases reported annually.

Despite global efforts to repeal laws that discriminate against those affected by leprosy, adults still face crippling social barriers and children are deprived of education or subject to bullying and rejection due to stigma associated with the disease.

Leprosy is caused by infection with the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae, which multiplies very slowly in the human body. The bacterium has a long incubation period (on average five years or longer). The disease affects nerve endings and destroys the body’s ability to feel pain and injury.

Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts disability. Multidrug therapy is made available free of charge through WHO and has been donated to all patients wordwide by Novartis since 2000 (and earlier by The Nippon Foundation since 1995). It provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says national programmes should boost active case-finding, strengthen surveillance, improve contact-tracing and focus more on early detection of leprosy cases among children to ensure achievement of the global target of zero child infection by 2020.

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