The Union government has rolled out a programme for universal screening of children below 18 years for leprosy and tuberculosis (TB).
An estimated 25 crore children and adolescents will be annually screened for the diseases and put on treatment if required.
In a letter to Principal Secretaries (Health) of state earlier this month, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health, Manoj Jhalani, who is also mission director of the National Health Mission, wrote: “Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) Mobile Health teams…screen children of 0-6 years at Anganwadis and children of 6-18 years enrolled in government and government-aided schools. Screening of children for TB and Leprosy through RBSK Mobile Health teams is now introduced for early detection of TB and Leprosy.”
Screening tools used by RBSK mobile health teams have been “suitably revised to include these aspects”, Jhalani wrote. RBSK is aimed at early identification and early intervention for children from birth to 18 years to cover the four Ds — defects at birth, deficiencies, diseases, development delays, including disability.
Sources said the leprosy screening programme has been designed and rolled out on express directions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi has mentioned more than once that he envisages leprosy eradication as one of the tributes to Mahatma Gandhi as the nation observes his 150th birth anniversary. Addressing BJP lawmakers last month, Modi had asked them to devote themselves to the cause of leprosy eradication.
India eliminated leprosy in 2005 — WHO defines elimination as an incidence rate of less than one case per 10,000 population. All states except Chhattisgarh and the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli have eliminated leprosy. However, there are still 1.15-1.2 lakh new leprosy cases detected every year, Health Ministry officials said.
TB kills an estimated 4.8 lakh Indians every year and more than 1,400 every day. India, which has the highest TB burden in the world, also has more than a million ‘missing’ cases every year that are not notified. Most such cases remain either undiagnosed or unaccountable and inadequately diagnosed, and treated in the private sector.
To ensure that the screening starts immediately and is thorough, the RBSK reporting format has been changed to include screening data for both diseases, Jhalani stated in the letter dated August 9. While cases thus detected will be referred to the block or district health officials concerned for treatment, those who have come in contact with confirmed leprosy cases would be given prophylactic medication, it stated.
A senior ministry official explained, “There is still a lot of stigma attached to leprosy, that is why we have to administer preventive medication to family, parents, etc, very discreetly. The idea is to catch cases early so as to prevent disability. If detected in time the disease is completely curable.”