WHO aims for zero leprosy by 2020

New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) The World Health Organisation aims to reduce to zero by 2020 the number of children diagnosed with leprosy and related deformities.

The decision is part of a new strategy launched against leprosy by the global health body, which also called for stronger commitments and accelerated efforts to stop disease transmission and end associated discrimination and stigma, to achieve a world free of leprosy.

“The new global strategy is guided by the principles of initiating action, ensuring accountability and promoting inclusivity. These principles must be embedded in all aspects of leprosy control efforts,” Poonam Khetrapal, regional director for the World Health Organisation’s South-East Asia Region, said at the launch of the global strategy for 2016-2020 “Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world” here.

The new strategy also aims to reduce the rate of newly-diagnosed leprosy patients with visible deformities to less than one per million; and ensure that all legislation that allows for discrimination on the basis of leprosy is overturned.

“The key interventions needed to achieve the targets include detecting cases early before visible disabilities occur, with a special focus on children as a way to reduce disabilities and reduce transmission, targeting detection among higher risk groups through campaigns in highly endemic areas or communities, and improving health care coverage and access for marginalised population,” said Khetrapal.

She said screening all close contacts of leprosy affected people, promoting a shorter and uniform treatment regime, and incorporating specific interventions against stigma and discrimination are the other strategic interventions that endemic countries need to include in their national plans to meet the new targets.

“The new strategy builds on the success of previous leprosy control strategies. It has been developed in consultation with national leprosy programs, technical agencies and NGOs, as well as patients and communities affected by leprosy,” she said.

The strategy focuses on equity and universal health coverage which will contribute to reaching Sustainable Development Goals on health.

According to the health data, the main and continuing challenges to leprosy control have been the delay in detection of new patients and persisting discrimination against people affected by leprosy which has ensured continued transmission of the disease.

India, Brazil and Indonesia account for 81 percent of the newly diagnosed and reported cases globally.

Leprosy was eliminated globally in the year 2000 with the disease prevalence rate dropping to below one per 10,000 population.

Though all countries have achieved this rate at the national level, at the sub-national level, it remains an unfinished agenda.

Leprosy continues to afflict the vulnerable, causing life-long disabilities in many patients, subjecting them to discrimination, stigma and a life marred with social and economic hardships.

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