On the 2nd September the World Health Organization (WHO) released their most recent leprosy update titled: ‘Global leprosy update 2015: time for action, accountability and inclusion’. WHO collects information from national leprosy programmes around the world each year, to monitor the prevalence of the disease, the new cases that have been detected and the treatment that has been completed. This year, 136 countries responded with data, this is an increase on 15 countries on the previous report (2014).

The report states that 210,758 new leprosy cases were detected globally, showing a reduction of over 3,000 compared with the previous year. This is the third year in a row that the number of leprosy cases has stagnated. We need to do more in order to break this and reduce numbers more significantly.

In the countries where we work, India reported 127,326 new cases which accounted for 60% of the total, Bangladesh had 3,976 and Mozambique had a total of 1,335 new cases. All three countries are considered as having a “high burden for leprosy” (including high transmission).

Number of new leprosy cases Number of females among new cases Number of children among new cases Number of grade 2 disability among new cases
India 127,326 48,808 11,389 5,851
Bangladesh 3,976 1,621 327 327
Mozambique 1,335 565 116 243

The report also highlighted that 18,796 (8.9%) children were among the new cases for the year, indicating that there is still continued transmission of infection in communities. We must break this transmission to significantly reduce the number of new cases each year.

The proportion of new grade 2 disability cases (visible deformity or damage present) is at 6.7% globally, indicating a delay in the detection of leprosy. The number of newly diagnosed children who already had visible impairments was 271. These figures are incredibly concerning; children with visible side-effects from leprosy are at risk of being shunned out of their homes and communities due to prejudice, they potentially miss out on their education and as a result are at risk of a limited livelihood. We must continue our efforts to find the hidden people affected by leprosy and diagnose before disability takes hold.

Part of the recently released Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020 calls for “zero legislations, rules and policies that allow discrimination against persons affected by leprosy”. This year, four countries reported the existence of such laws that may restrict a person affected by leprosy to access social entitlements compared with those people who are not affected. Governments and legislators of several countries have taken steps to end the discrimination against those affected by this disease. Our strategy reinforces this, we aim to remove all discriminatory laws in India and Bangladesh by the end of 2020.

Conclusions of the report highlight the importance of active case finding in order to find more people at risk of contracting the disease and diagnose them early to reduce the number of cases found with grade 2 disabilities. At Lepra, active case finding is at the forefront of our work, we look for more cases not only within the families of an affected person, but in the 20 surrounding houses in the communities as well.

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