THE FIGHT against leprosy, it seems, is far from over. An intensified leprosy case detection programme conducted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in 163 districts across 20 states over 20 days recently, has identified thousands of “hidden” cases.
Dr Anil Kumar, deputy director-general, National Leprosy Elimination Programme (NLEP), told The Indian Express that “at least 20,000 hidden cases were detected” during a massive door-to-door campaign from September 14-October 4. Hidden cases are those that go unreported, mainly due to the fear and stigma associated with the disease.
“Those identified with the symptoms will be referred to medical treatment,” said Kumar.
Over 2 lakh volunteers, including Accredited Social Health Activists, were involved in the campaign that screened around 32 crore people on different dates in various states, including Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Odisha, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat and Jharkhand.
Kumar said that 4,400 hidden cases have been confirmed in Bihar. West Bengal, too, has reported a high number of hidden cases, said the official, adding that data was still being compiled from the initiative conducted along the lines of the polio eradication campaign. Officials in Maharashtra estimated the number of such cases in the state to be around 7,000.
India is home to 60 per cent of the world’s leprosy patients and according to the NLEP, at least 1.25 lakh new cases were detected in 2014-15 in the country. The need for a leprosy case detection programme was undertaken on a war-footing to identify hidden cases and start immediate treatment, said an official.
According to government data, leprosy cases of grade II disability (damage to limbs and nerves) shot up to 5,794 in 2014-15, after declining to 3,019 in 2005. The percentage of grade II disability among new cases detected has increased from 3.10 per cent (2010-2011) to 4.61 per cent (2014-2015), which indicated that the cases were being detected late.
In March-April, a similar detection programme was carried out in 50 districts of seven states, during which 65,427 suspected cases were identified out of which 4,120 were later confirmed.
Dr Sanjeev Kamble, joint director of health (leprosy) in Maharashtra, said that tests are underway to confirm the early diagnosis in “hidden cases”. A majority of cases in the state were found at Palghar, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, he said.
“We want people to come forward and register for medical services. Soon, we will start administering the drug, Rifampicin, as a preventive measure to people in contact with the leprosy patients,” said a health official.