On the Goodwill Ambassador's recent visit to Malawi, a reporter asked why leprosy is still a problem when the drugs to treat it are available free. It's a question that raises some pertinent issues.
The drugs may be free, but they need to reach clinics and health posts where patients can have access to them. Health workers must be able to recognize the disease and initiate the appropriate treatment. Patients placed on MDT need to adhere to their treatment and complete the 6- or 12-month regimen for the cure to be effective. People must be able to come forward for diagnosis and treatment without fear of discrimination because of the stigma leprosy still attracts in many communities. These are matters that go beyond whether the drugs are free or not.
At a separate press conference, a journalist asked if there were plans to build more rehabilitation centers in Malawi like the one at Utale 2. In reply, the national leprosy program manager explained that Utale 2 was for people with severe disabilities. The program does not intend to wait around for people to become disabled but diagnose them early and treat them promptly. Building more such facilities is not the answer; the answer is ensuring that people are treated and cured and continue to live in the community.