People affected by leprosy attending the 19th International Leprosy Congress in Beijing pose for a photo on the final day.
Three years have passed since the July 2013 International Leprosy Summit in Thailand, at which the health ministers of 17 high-burden countries endorsed the Bangkok Declaration. In the declaration they pledged to reduce the occurrence of new cases with visible disability to less than one case per million population by 2020 and to focus on early detection of new cases in pockets of high endemicity such as urban slums, border regions and ethnic minority areas. In support of this, the Nippon Foundation committed financial support totaling $20 million over five years to fund activities by the WHO and endemic countries.
How much has changed since then? In 2015, a total of 210,758 new cases of leprosy were reported worldwide, compared with 215,656 cases in 2013. In numerical terms, there is not much difference and I fear we have not seen great progress, despite all agreeing to the declaration.
India was one of the signatories of the Bangkok Declaration. In 2015, it reported 127,326 new cases of leprosy, accounting for 60% of the world total. Under Minister of Health & Family Welfare J.P. Nadda it has taken steps to strengthen and modify its national leprosy eradication program, which the minister outlined in a praiseworthy newspaper article on October 8.
These include implementing leprosy case detection campaigns involving house-to-house screening and referral for diagnosis. The first of these campaigns was launched in March in 50 districts of seven states. During the campaign, 65,000 suspected cases were identified, out of which 4,000 were later confirmed. A second campaign was launched in September.
The minister also brought up the subject of stigma. Acknowledging that society’s attitudes toward leprosy have to change if the disease is to be defeated, he said that removal of stigma is vital if people are to come forward for treatment.
I hope that the other countries that endorsed the Bangkok Declaration will follow India’s example, show fresh resolve and re-energize their leprosy elimination efforts. I do not want them to forget the pledge they made to “Reaffirm our political commitment and guidance towards a world free from leprosy.”
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador