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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

Comment: Looking Back at Hyderabad

Social aspects of leprosy added another dimension to 17th ILC.

The 17th International Leprosy Congress was an important landmark in the history of leprosy and leprosy work as it came at a time of great achievements in conquering the disease as a public health problem.

The Congress attracted over 1,500 delegates from more than 60 countries. The participants included experts from several disciplines ranging from molecular biology at one end to socioeconomic rehabilitation at the other. A large number of leprosy-affected people themselves actively participated, allowing their voices to be heard. There were also several pre-Congress workshops that enabled consensus development on several areas of leprosy work.

The Congress benefited from over 600 original papers and about 100 special presentations covering various topics, including clinical aspects, therapy, immunology, microbiology, epidemiology, surgery, rehabilitation and social aspects.

Hyderabad: objectives of the Congress were met

REDUCED DISEASE BURDEN

The Congress reviewed the epidemiological situation of leprosy in the world and the achievements toward elimination of the disease. While it was clear that the disease burden has been hugely reduced, irrespective of some controversies over the reliability of available statistics, the question of dealing with the remaining problems was considered serious enough to merit further intensification of anti-leprosy activities in areas of persisting leprosy endemicity, as well as the development of newer strategies, aside from investing more in research.

The Hyderabad Congress addressed particularly the issues that directly impact people affected by the disease, including the challenges they face in the areas of stigma, socio-economic rehabilitation, empowerment and human rights. Leprosy-affected persons from several countries contributed to the discussions in a very effective manner.

The Congress also discussed major developments emanating from information on the genome of M. leprae and the resulting opportunities for a better understanding of the disease process and possibilities for improved tools for diagnosis and treatment. Overall, the main objectives of the Congress of promoting interaction among leprosy workers and scientists were effectively met.

The Congress was also an important learning opportunity for many young health workers.

It was also a very important learning opportunity for a large number of young health workers who participated in various sessions with great enthusiasm. The facilities at the Congress venue aided the interaction among them, and many of the workers said they would remember the 17th International Leprosy Congress for a long time to come.

THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

Reflecting on the achievements of the Congress and looking to the future of leprosy work, it is clear that the challenges we face mainly involve further improving our understanding of the disease process and better interventions for management of leprosy and its complications. The public health issues, including leprosy elimination, will have diminished importance in the future in view of the huge reductions already achieved in leprosy prevalence and incidence. However, there will be continuing need for better understanding of the epidemiology of leprosy, particularly in geographic areas where the disease tends to persist.

Meanwhile, as some of the discussions at Hyderabad indicated, an area where the focus is likely to enlarge greatly involves the physical and socio-economic rehabilitation of leprosy-affected persons, including the related issues of social stigma, discrimination, empowerment and human rights.

AUTHOR:Dr. S.K. Noordeen

Dr. S.K. Noordeen was the chairman of the 17th International Leprosy Congress held in Hyderabad, India, from January 30 to February 4.