Pledges to breathe fresh life into leprosy's international scientific body.
Brazilian plastic surgeon Dr. Marcos Virmond was elected new president of the International Leprosy Association (ILA) during the recently concluded 17th International Leprosy Congress in Hyderabad.
In an interview on the sidelines of the six-day congress, Virmond said that his goal was to make the ILA a more dynamic organization so as to attract new generations of doctors and scientists and provide them with a place where they can discuss their work. "The ILA is essentially a scientific association for discussing the science of leprosy. It should be the optimum place for them," he said.
Improving communication among members is a key part of these plans. "We are taking measures in the short term to have a very active website, and probably to have a newsletter. In the longer term, we would like to consider reviving the International Journal of Leprosy. It is very important for a scientific organization to have an important scientific voice, such as a journal."
While careful to underscore the ILA's scientific credentials, Virmond also welcomed the involvement of people affected by leprosy at the 17th Congress. "Few scientific societies in the world allow the 'users' to take part in their conferences. But I am absolutely in favor of their participation. I do not think you can study the problems of leprosy without the very rich input of those who are suffering from the disease," he said.
Virmond is also a keen student of history, and believes the past has much to teach about leprosy. "As you know, the ILA has had a Global Project on the History of Leprosy, and during my term we are definitely going to try and continue this as a priority."
Regarding prospects of eradicating leprosy, Virmond takes the long view. "This is still a disease we don't know very much about, and we still have patients who suffer from it. In the future, say in 100 years, we may no longer see any patients. But that does not mean the bacteria will have been eradicated. This is why the ILA will continue to exist. As scientists, we would like to understand all the details of this unique pathogen, M. leprae," he said.