Last week the World Health Organization (WHO) released their new global leprosy strategy: “Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world.” This is their latest five year strategy and will guide work in the leprosy field until 2020. It also coincides with the new Sustainable Development Goals (2016-2030) and the WHO’s 2020 roadmap on Neglected Tropical Diseases. 

This strategy is one that’s hoped to be a final push in the fight to eliminate leprosy. It provides an infrastructure and sets key goals that will help international players like Lepra to tackle the disease. 

What’s in this new strategy? 

This new strategy still looks at how to reduce the global leprosy but builds upon previous efforts made and now also takes into account the more human and social aspects affecting leprosy control. That means looking at ways of reducing stigma and promoting inclusiveness so that we can diagnose cases earlier. This will contribute to reaching one of the WHO’s targets of ensuring zero disability among children as a result of leprosy and works towards the idea that one day we might live in a world free from leprosy. 

The strategy also contributes to sustainable development goal 3 - to end the epidemic of neglected tropical diseases by 2030. Tackling the transmission and effects of leprosy would mean achievement of this goal as leprosy is one of the 17 NTDs that are currently being targeted for elimination. 

The main points 

The strategy has many layers to it and combines several actions that look at treatment, diagnosis and raising awareness. The main points of the new strategy are: 

  • To stop leprosy and its complications 
  • To stop discrimination and promote inclusion 
  • To focus on early case detection 
  • To ensure no children are left with a disability as a result of leprosy 
  • To actively find cases of leprosy to reduce chance of disability 
  • To tackle stigma and discrimination 
  • To eliminate any laws discriminating against people affected by leprosy

By taking a more holistic approach and looking at the consequences of the disease past the point of treatment and considering the associated issues of prejudice and inclusiveness, hopefully we will make steps in reaching a world free from leprosy. 

So what’s new? 

In this latest strategy the aim is still to reach the ultimate goal of living in a world without leprosy but this strategy renews ideas and focusses on a few different factors that perhaps didn’t feature in the last strategy. 

For example: 

The strategy now considers the complications of leprosy so that means not only preventing transmission and enabling access to treatment but preventing the problems that are associated with leprosy. That can mean looking at preventing possible disabilities that can occur but also considering the loss of work and the stigma that an individual can face. 

The focus on zero disability among children is also a new factor. It is important because with early detection and treatment a disability can be prevented. This means we must work to reach those vulnerable people in remote areas who may not have access to the necessary healthcare. 

How it affects us? 

Over the years our aim has always been to help reduce the incidence and impact of leprosy and other neglected diseases and this year we have a renewed sense of energy gained from our own new strategy which is well-aligned with the new WHO strategy. 

Over the next five years, we’ll be focused on making leprosy of little consequence to the person contracting it by making it easily diagnosed and treated so that it causes no lasting disability. We will also focus on health education and awareness so that we can reduce the stigma surrounding leprosy. This will help us to find more people who may be affected. 

With the new WHO strategy we have been given an opportunity to re-energise the fight against leprosy and enable children, women and men affected by neglected tropical diseases to transform their lives. 

We are excited about this next phase of our work and looking forward to making a bigger difference to the millions living with neglected tropical diseases.