Urging governments to remain politically committed to leprosy control activities in the post-elimination era is one of the tasks of the Goodwill Ambassador. In a world in which major public health problems clamor for attention, the pressure on the decision makers to divert resources to other diseases can be intense.
In a recent conversation with this newsletter, Dr. V. J. Pannikar, the thoughtful team leader of the WHO's global leprosy program in Delhi, said that around the world, governments are being criticized for not doing enough to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. As a result, they are looking to the leprosy infrastructure, and to key leprosy personnel, to help them out in these other areas. They see young people dying of diseases; they have to set their own priorities, he said.
Leprosy can't compete in terms of priorities, but continued dialogue can ensure that it remains a focus of attention, said Dr. Pannikar. There is a moral aspect to government, and I think countries are willing to keep leprosy on the agenda. Nobody wants to have leprosy in their country.
Translating that moral commitment into a monetary commitment is harder, however. Very few national governments put resources into leprosy, he said, not because they don't want to but because they don't have them to give. One one country strengthening its effort is India. Ever since I have known the program, the budget has only gone up. It has never stabilized or gone down. This year, in fact, the amount has doubled, said Dr. Pannikar.
His comments are echoed by the Indian government's leprosy point man, Dr. P.L. Joshi (see page 3), who assures that political commitment to tackling leprosy is high, and is being translated into new initiatives. India, for one, sees the return in investing in leprosy.