A guest blog from Polygeia.

Leprosy is one of the 18 diseases identified as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Together these diseases affect more than one billion people, mostly the world’s poorest communities. Safe water, sanitation and vector control along with drugs and vaccines play big roles in tackling these diseases. When used effectively, they can tackle several NTDs at once. This integrated approach is central to our work. For example Lepra work to provide the clean water needed to care for the wounds caused by leprosy and wash the infected limbs of people with lymphatic filariasis (LF).

Progress in the fight against NTDs in India and Bangladesh

Along with leprosy Lepra also focuses on two other neglected diseases in India: LF and visceral leishmaniasis (VL), a life-threatening parasitic disease. Half of the global cases of VL and 40% of LF cases occur in India [2]. According to the WHO, India and Bangladesh are on track to eliminate both diseases by 2020. Excitingly, India was declared free of another NTD, yaws, in May this year [3]. Yaws, like leprosy, is a completely curable bacterial disease which causes disfigurement leading to stigmatisation and isolation. This success provides hope that India now has the tools to one day be free of leprosy, VL and LF.

However, official reports which suggest that India is on track for disease elimination can be misleading. The WHO reported this year that LF drugs had been successfully given out across 98.6% of India. But Lepra has found out through interviewing people in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states that only half the pills had actually been taken, probably due to mistrust and lack of understanding. This highlights the need for an integrated approach which provides education alongside treatment.

Progress in the fight against leprosy

Disappointingly, the number of new cases of leprosy has only gone down slightly over the last three years. This reflects the drop-off in the global effort to combat leprosy following the announcement of the global elimination of leprosy in 2000 [4]. ‘Elimination’ in this case means a disease rate of less than 1 in 10,000 people, but there are still around 200,000 new cases per year and thousands of people living with disability and discrimination due to leprosy.

In a positive step forward, the WHO released their new leprosy strategy this year: ‘Global Leprosy Strategy 2016–2020 - Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world’, aiming to increase the focus on this debilitating disease and make sure that momentum is kept up to reduce the suffering caused by leprosy. The report highlights the importance of specialist NGOs, in providing education and reducing stigma.

Through your donations you can help reach out to the poorest and most remote communities which carry the burden of neglected diseases in India, Bangladesh and Mozambique. With your help Lepra can detect and treat more cases of leprosy and LF before they become debilitating and togerher we can all keep pushing to end the stigma associated with disease through education.

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1 http://www.who.int/neglected_diseases/diseases/en/
2 Kant, L. (2016) Deleting the 'neglect' from two neglected tropical diseases in India. The Indian journal of medical research 143, 398-400
3 Narain, J.P., et al. (2015) Eradicating successfully yaws from India: The strategy & global lessons. The Indian journal of medical research 141, 608-613
4 http://www.who.int/lep/resources/9789290225096/en/