Leprosy cases have been affected by covid surveillance and control.
The disease recorded 140,594 new cases in 2021, the latest year for which information is available, compared to 128,405 detected in 2020, according to data from 143 countries compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The figures show that every day 385 new cases of leprosy continue to be detected in the world, 23 with visible disabilities, and of which 25 are boys and girls under the age of 15.
The data, informs the Fontilles Foundation, which has disseminated information on the occasion of World Leprosy Day, which is commemorated on January 29, are far from meeting the international goals for 2030, despite the fact that the disease has been cured since four decades ago.
The treatment, provided free of charge by the WHO, consists of two pills a day for a year (six months in less severe cases), which is enough to kill the bacteria and, if given in time, serves to prevent the development of disabilities.
In Spain, 10 new cases were reported in 2022. At the end of the year there were 19 people in treatment.
The new cases detected in boys and girls under the age of 15 have grown by 4.9%, from 8,629 to 9,052, which represents 6.4% of the total and represents a rate of 4.5 cases per million child population. which verifies the continuity of the transmission of the infection in impoverished communities.
The increase in detections in 2021 is not a consequence of a strengthening of the detection campaigns by the countries involved, but of the emergence of undetected cases during 2020 following the confinements decreed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and the concentration of health resources in the treatment of people affected by the virus.
“During the pandemic, prevention and detection campaigns were stopped and many resources were diverted to the health emergency; for this reason, we are now diagnosing more people and with more disabilities”, explained Yolanda Sanchis, Director of Awareness and Volunteering at Fontilles.
“In the coming years we will need to strengthen the work to reach all the people who have remained undiagnosed and avoid the worsening of the disabilities produced”, adds Yolanda Sanchís.
Precisely for this reason, the organization has launched the campaign Zero leprosy is possiblewhich aims to raise awareness about the possibility of ending leprosy so that no one suffers the physical and social consequences of a disease that can be prevented and cured.
Data by region, relapses and gender gap
The disease has registered 93,485 cases in Southeast Asia; 21,201 in Africa; 19,826 in America; 3,588 in the Eastern Mediterranean; 2,480 in the Western Pacific; and 14 in Europe.
The twenty-three countries considered a priority by the WHO in the fight against leprosy concentrate 94.6% of detections and three, 74.5%: India, with 75,394, 53.6%; Brazil, with 18,318, 13%; and Indonesia, with 10,976, 7.8%.
Also, relapses have increased by 7.1%, going from 2,990 to 3,201, a fact that shows errors in monitoring the evolution of treatment by some national health systems.
Finally, the detections in women and girls account for only 39.4% of the total (55,349) despite not having a lower risk of contracting the disease compared to men and children, which indicates a gender gap in access to health services prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The disease of leprosy and its treatment
World Leprosy Day was established in 1954 at the initiative of the French journalist Raoul Follereau and is celebrated on the last Sunday of January on the occasion of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, in recognition of his intense work to help those affected, informs the Fontilles Foundation.
Its objective is to raise awareness of the existence of a disease that many people believe has been eradicated, and to obtain the necessary help to prevent it, detect it, reduce the incidence of associated disabilities and guarantee the future of those who suffer from it. they have suffered
Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae, discovered in 1873 by the Norwegian scientist Gerhard Armauer Hansen; it can attack humans at any age and both sexes equally, and although the incubation period lasts between three and five years, symptoms can take up to twenty years to appear.
This pathology mainly affects the skin and nerves. Its first signs are pale patches of skin or numbness in the fingers and toes, but if not treated in the early stages it can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes, generating paralysis and irreversible disabilities.
Transmission occurs only through tiny droplets expelled through the nose and mouth. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy is rarely contagious, which only occurs when living with the affected person in conditions of overcrowding, poor nutrition and lack of hygiene, which links transmission to situations of poverty.
Leprosy is curable thanks to the treatment of Polychemotherapy (MDT), which has been applied since 1982 and consists of the combination of three drugs (dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine) for a period ranging from six to twelve months . The disease ceases to be contagious from the application of the first dose.