Let's Eradicate Leprosy

The 30th of January is celebrated as the World Leprosy Eradication Day. This is in commemoration of the martyrdom of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi also known as Mahatma Gandhi – a man who aimed at seeing the complete eradication of leprosy. Leprosy which is also known as Hansen’s disease is a chronic infection which is caused by Mycobacterium Leprae. It has a long incubation period ranging from a few months to 50 years. The mean incubation period ranges from 4 weeks-10 years.

Signs and symptoms include aesthetic skin lesions (light or dark patches), nodules, plaques, thickened dermis, nasal congestion, epistaxis (bleeding from nostrils), poor eyesight and lack of ability to feel pain, weakness. Leprosy affects the skin, peripheral nerves, upper respiratory tract, and eyes. Skin sensation is lost because of damaged peripheral nerves which can lead to loss of parts of the extremities, as well as blindness.

The specific route of transmission is not fully established, although human-human spread of nasal secretions is thought to be the most likely route. There is also an increased risk of transmission when living with a person/ person(s) having leprosy (especially if the person has a large amount of leprae cells, i.e. multibacillary type). However it does not seem to be transmitted by touch as the mycobacterium cannot cross intact skin.

Though leprosy control has significantly improved due to an increased awareness in most endemic countries and is now defined as reaching a prevalence of less than 1 case per 10000, more work is needed to be done in countries like Nigeria where it is still prevalent. Access to information, early diagnosis and treatment with MultiDrug Therapy (consisting Dapsone, Rifampicin and Clofazimine) remains the key elements in the strategy to eliminating leprosy as a public health problem.

Due to the mode of transmission, the disease tends to be commoner in densely populated areas with unhygienic conditions. Leprosy is considered to be a disease of the poor as malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, and overcrowding are major risk factors. It is not hereditary. However there is a relationship between immunity and leprosy.
 By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

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