India was officially declared to have eliminated leprosy in 2005 when new cases fell to less than 1 per 10,000, yet India still accounts for the largest number of leprosy affected people in the world (58 per cent) with a registered prevalence of 86,319 and 1,25,785 new detected cases.
Leprosy institutes under the Directorate General of Health Services, based in Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal, are involved in the research and training of different categories of staff involved in leprosy elimination.
Major concerns include undetected new cases, problems with leprosy integration, the presence of leprosy in children, obsolete discriminating laws and paucity of education and training for livelihoods.
Globally, the difference between the expected and observed numbers of new cases of leprosy between 2000 and 2012 is approximately over 2.6 million. This number is expected to increase to over 4 million by 2020.
In India, a total of 11,365 child cases were recorded last year, indicating a child case rate of 0.88/100,000 population, a reduction in child case rates from 2013-14 by 7.4 per cent.
The Indian government needs to pass The Repealing and Amending (Fourth) Elimination Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy (EDPAL) Bill, 2015 (introduced last year) in the next Parliament session, and implement the key recommendations of the Law Commission on rights and special privileges.
Multi-stakeholder partnership is of utmost importance to ensure that leprosy remains on the health agenda as long as it is necessary.
Government, NGOs and private agencies need to work together in a coordinated fashion. Continued training of medical officers, nurses, physiotherapists, and paramedical workers about quality diagnosis and treatment of leprosy must also be given prime focus.
Rampant stigma against the disease prevents patients from seeking medical treatment till it can no longer be hidden. By then, nerve damage is irreversible and disabilities have begun to set in, making social rehabilitation that much more difficult. A large number of leprosy affected fall in the category of persons with disabilities as they hesitate to come forward for treatment.