Press release - 09.08.2017 

Research suggests that 93% of leprosy cases in the world today are undetected, according to UK-based international charity, Lepra.

Despite the declared ‘elimination’ of the disease worldwide in 2005, Lepra’s ‘Hidden leprosy figures report’ suggests that not only has leprosy never gone away – but it has spread. The charity believes that more than 3 million people are living undiagnosed with the disease around the world today.

In 1991, the target for eliminating leprosy was defined by The World Health Organisation as a prevalence of less than one case per 10,000 people. At the time, resources were allocated to research and community screening programmes, however, once this target was met in 2005, political interest, resources and economic incentives to actively find new cases disappeared, which dramatically affected the number of new cases reported annually.

Paul Watson, Head of Programmes and Advocacy at Lepra comments:

“Leprosy is making a comeback in many countries around the world, where the expertise and infrastructure dedicated to detecting and treating the disease has been dismantled.
As a result, approximately 50% of all new leprosy cases were missed during the period 2000 to 2015 and, if you therefore take into account the backlog of accumulated undiagnosed cases since the turn of the millennium, today we are detecting and assisting only an estimated 7% of those people believed to be currently infected with the disease.

At the same time, this complacency, and the associated late case detection, is consigning many of those affected by leprosy to a life of physical disability and, often, mental health problems – given the stigma that still surrounds the disease.

Leprosy is treatable and, if detected early, disability can be prevented. Governments around the world need to refocus attention on leprosy so that it may be made a ‘disease of no consequence’, as an important step towards it eventual eradication everywhere.”

Since ‘elimination’ was proclaimed, visible disabilities amongst people newly diagnosed with leprosy have increased by 13%. This indicates a delay in leprosy detection and, indirectly, its continuous transmission in the community.

Mohammad Mubarak is 12 years old. Leprosy has destroyed the nerves and muscles in his ankle, which has left him with “foot drop” – a condition which means he is no longer able to lift his foot. This disability could have been prevented if Mohammad had been diagnosed earlier. However, for months his doctors believed it was polio.

Dr Sonia Sethi, a Lepra doctor who is now treating Mohammad says: “There are gaps in services. Doctors are seeing 250-300 patients a day and they don’t have the time or specialist knowledge to recognise leprosy.”

Mohammad is now receiving the correct treatment and he also wears specialist footwear to help lift his foot and strengthen his ankle muscles. He will be assessed in six months to see if he will require surgery to further improve his mobility.

Find out more about Lepra’s work at lepra.org.uk

About Lepra

We are a UK-based international charity working to beat leprosy.

This disease affects millions of the most vulnerable people in the world, causing life-changing disabilities and attracting terrible stigma. But there is a cure.

We work directly with communities in Bangladesh, India and Mozambique to find, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate people affected by leprosy.

By raising awareness, pushing for early detection and supporting people living with disabilities caused by leprosy, we are working towards a day when this disease no longer destroys lives. With your support we can help more people and reach this day sooner.

Diseases like leprosy and LF are both a consequence and a cause of poverty. We support people to improve their lives so that they can overcome disease and escape this cycle of poverty.

Our custom-made shoes protect the feet of people affected by leprosy and lymphatic filariasis so that they can walk to work. This means that they can be self-sufficient and support their families.

Our in-country teams visit communities to screen people for leprosy and provide access to the cure, helping us to reach more people earlier and provide treatment before disability develops.

The stigma surrounding leprosy and LF means that people are shunned and isolated, so health education and raising awareness about these diseases is also an essential part of our work.

For more information please contact:

Fiona Graham (Communications Officer)
E. fionag@lepra.org.uk T. + 44 (0)1206 216710