Press Release - September 2017

UK-based international leprosy charity, Lepra state that despite the acknowledgement of the rise in leprosy cases in the latest WHO leprosy update – the hidden cases have been overlooked.

Geoff Prescott, Chief Executive at Lepra comments:

“The increase of reported cases from 211,973 in 2015 to 214,738 in 2016 shows that leprosy is on the rise. Specifically in India – a country which holds two thirds of the world’s leprosy burden – reported cases are now at their highest since 2007. However, despite this acknowledgement, the report overlooks the 3 million unreported cases of leprosy.

A key method to find and treat cases of undiagnosed leprosy is with active case finding, where households and communities across high endemic areas are screened for the disease.

The report highlights the success of India’s National Leprosy Eradication Programme’s (NLEP) Leprosy Case Detection Campaign (LCDC) which led to the detection of 34,000 new cases – proving that active case finding is an effective model. However, active case finding carried out by Lepra in the Indian state of Bihar over a 6 month period found 3 times as many cases than the Indian government who carried out similar methods in the same area over the course of a year.

The quality and thoroughness of active case finding is dependent on the strength of government detection programmes. In many countries, resources can be sparse and priorities can be elsewhere which means that government led active case finding is not always carried out to its fullest capacity. As a consequence, many cases are missed; they remain untreated and fall off official global health records – meaning that we do not get a true depiction of the number of people affected by leprosy.

Given that India has a population of over a billion, it shows that momentum needs to be kept up to ensure that greater numbers of people are screened properly for the disease.

Whilst the news of finding greater numbers of people affected by leprosy is to be celebrated, more work needs to be done to strengthen government provision, establish uniformity of active case finding methods, reinstate partnerships between governments and NGOs and for all activities to be carried out on a much greater scale.

This effort will work to find and treat the remaining hidden cases of leprosy and we will gain an accurate measurement of the true extent of this global health issue.”