Progress report highlights “new strategies, new drug, new dollars” for leprosy.
Against the backdrop of the WHO’s plan to control, eliminate or eradicate 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by 2020 announced in January 2012, a group of public and private partners are focusing their efforts on 10 of these diseases, including leprosy, that affect more than 1.4 billion people
Following the London Declaration of 2012, when the partners laid out their plans and launched an informal group called Uniting to Combat NTDs, momentum has been building toward achieving these goals. On April 2, the group issued an update, titled “Delivering on Promises and Driving Progress.”
Concerning leprosy, the report noted that disease transmission is still occurring at a fairly steady rate and that maintaining political interest and NGO support will be necessary to sustain and surpass current achievements. But it drew attention to new initiatives that are being developed — more intensive contract tracing and treating exposed family members with a single dose of rifampicin to reduce the spread of the disease — as well as work on new diagnostic tests and leprosy-specific vaccines. It also noted renewed commitments, both political and financial, made at the International Leprosy Summit in Bangkok last July and at the International Leprosy Congress in Brussels.
In a country profile, the success of Brazil’s school-based outreach strategy to screen 3.7 million children for leprosy and treat 2.9 million for soil-transmitted helminthes in 852 priority municipalities was highlighted.
The National Hansen’s Disease Museum in Tokyo is hosting its first-ever exhibition by a foreign artist. Born in China in 1929, Lin Zhi Ming signs his work with the characters meaning “a boat in wind and rain.”
Diagnosed with leprosy at the age of 8, he spent his 20s in a sanatorium before being discharged at the age of 32. A self-taught artist and calligrapher, he survived for some years by selling his works on the street. In 1999 he published “No Misery in the World,” describing his own and others’ experiences as persons affected by leprosy. He is a founding member of the Handa Rehabilitation and Welfare Association, which he now represents as honorary chairman.
Even at 85, Lin is keen to improve his brushwork and has recently been perfecting his life-like depictions of shrimp — works that caught the eye of Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa. Many of his pieces, however, are of peonies, China’s national flower. “The artist who paints a wonderful picture leaves behind beauty after he has gone,” he says.
Primary stakeholders. Main actors. Working partners. Key collaborators. Allies. Discussions about the status and role of people affected by leprosy in leprosy services continue. The central theme of WHO guidelines published in 2011 on this topic was recognition of the expertise of individuals who have had the disease and, through partnership, enabling them to support in the delivery of leprosy services.
Let us recall the words of the late leprologist Professor Michel Lechat, who died earlier this year and is remembered by his friend and colleague Dr. Yo Yuasa in this issue. It was at the 15th International Leprosy Congress in Beijing in 1998 that Professor Lechat noted the importance of involving people affected by leprosy. It was the first time people affected by the disease had participated fully in an ILA congress and he applauded the fact. “From being victims they have turned into working partners. In the years to come, their collaboration will be essential for ensuring the full success of our common endeavor toward a world without leprosy.” Facilitating this collaboration may not be simple, but it is essential.