International Women's Day 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, 8th March, UK-based leprosy charity, we have published new research which found 30% more women living with leprosy in Bihar, India, than the Indian government.

Ground-breaking new methods 

Our team have recently pioneered a new active case finding method, trialled in the state of Bihar in India, (a country which contributes to 58% of the world’s leprosy burden), we visited a total of 85,560 people from communities and households where cases of leprosy had been reported, checking for symptoms and signposting those with the disease to treatment.

Although active case finding methods have been employed by the Indian Government in their National Leprosy Eradication Programme in 2015, these focused specifically on those sharing a household with a reported leprosy case. Along with self-referrals this showed an unequal distribution of male to female cases; and in 2015 over 127,000 cases of leprosy were diagnosed in India, however only 37% of those who were diagnosed were women.

30% more female cases go undetected 

Our new methods focus on both the household members and 20-25 households around the reported case. Of the 321 newly diagnosed leprosy cases discovered via this method, 48% were female. Consequently as there is no evidence to suggest women are less affected than men, suggesting that almost 30% of female cases go undetected via the regular detection programmes.

The stigma of leprosy 

Little known to many in the UK, is the stigma which surrounds the disease, where many are subject to severe social exclusion due to poor health education and belief that the person is cursed. This affects women most due to repression from being perceived to have a lower social standing to men, early and arranged marriage and confinement to the home. In many cases, women affected by leprosy face violence, are forced to live on the streets and although now repealed, divorced under the 1898 Lepers Act. Because of this, women face triple discrimination of being a woman, having leprosy and a disability.

It is the combination of poor health awareness, stigma and fear of the consequences which prevents many from actively seeking diagnosis for the disease.

Rukmini Rao, Chair of Lepra in India comments:

"In India, there are many cultural barriers which prevent women from accessing healthcare. They often have to wait for permission from their husband or guardian to access medical help and they are unable to be examined by a male doctor alone. Many also fear the consequences of a leprosy diagnosis, which can lead to abandonment, unemployment, loss of their home, or even access to their children."

We firmly believe that our active case finding methods, raising awareness of the disease and empowering women to access their rights will vastly contribute to one day beating leprosy altogether.

You can help 

Support our appeal to help us find the hidden women affected by leprosy. 

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*Blog updated 15.03.2017 to show new statistics