|Leprosy: What it is|
Leprosy is caused by bacteria or germs called Mycobacterium leprae. It is an infection that affects the skin and the nerves of the hands and feet and can also cause problems in the eyes and nose.
Today, the diagnosis and treatment of leprosy is easy and most endemic countries are striving to fully integrate leprosy services into existing general health services.
This is especially important for those under-served and marginalised communities most at risk from leprosy, often the poorest of the poor.
Access to information, diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) remain key elements in the strategy to eliminate the disease as a public health problem, defined as reaching a prevalence of less than 1 leprosy case per 10,000 population. MDT treatment has been made available by WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995, and provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.
According to official reports received during 2008 from 118 countries and territories, the global registered prevalence of leprosy at the beginning of 2008 stood at 212,802 cases, while the number of new cases detected during 2007 was 254,525 (excluding the small number of cases in Europe). The number of new cases detected globally has fallen by 11,100 cases (a 4% decrease) during 2007 compared with 2006.
Most previously highly endemic countries have now reached elimination (defined as a registered prevalence rate of <1 case/10 000 population). During 2007, both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique reached this important stage. Those few countries that remain are very close to eliminating the disease. However, pockets of high endemicity still remain in some areas of Angola, Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal, and the United Republic of Tanzania. These countries remain highly committed to eliminating the disease, and continue to intensify their leprosy control activities.
Information campaigns about leprosy in high risk areas are crucial so that patients and their families, who were historically ostracized from their communities, are encouraged to come forward and receive treatment. The most effective way of preventing disabilities in leprosy, as well as preventing further transmission of the disease, lies in early diagnosis and treatment with MDT.