A doctor explains the treatment for leprosy to a 21-year-old man diagnosed with the disease in Mato Grosso state, Brazil, in August.
Brazil is a country that has yet to eliminate leprosy as a public health problem. When I visited in August, however, the health minister gave me a firm pledge that Brazil would fulfill its commitment and achieve elimination by the end of the year.
According to the ministry’s latest data, the prevalence rate of the disease was 1.27 per 10,000 population in 2014. The official figures for 2014 were 31,064 new cases detected and 25,738 cases under treatment as of December 31. As patients who have completed their treatment are not always immediately removed from the register, however, I learned that the true figure for prevalence is actually smaller.
During my stay I traveled to the states of Mato Grosso, which shares a border with Bolivia and has the highest prevalence rate of leprosy in the country, and Pernambuco, on the northeast coast. While in Mato Grosso, I visited the homes of leprosy patients in the vicinity of the capital, Cuiaba, and observed health personnel examine household contacts. I found the situation to be fairly serious.
In a relatively shortly space of time, several family members in each household were identified as suspected cases. Based on what I saw, one has to assume there are many more hidden cases in Brazil. It really brought home to me how important it is to examine the family of a person diagnosed with leprosy to see whether or not anyone else has the disease. The state governor is deeply concerned and we decided to organize a project for leprosy elimination involving the state health department, federal university and NGOs.
For now, I strongly hope that Brazil will achieve national-level elimination of leprosy by year’s end, as per the health minister’s comment to me. Should this happen, it will truly represent a major landmark in our long struggle against this disease.
Next will be to eliminate leprosy as a public health problem at state level and take measures to deal with so-called hot spots within states. I salute the health ministry for the efforts it is making and hope that it will strengthen its activities further.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador