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Fall in number of newly detected leprosy cases

The annual statistics of the World Health Organization WHO show that a total of 210,671 new leprosy cases were diagnosed in 2017, representing a decline of two percent over the previous year. As positive as this may seem, it remains open as to whether this is a welcome development.

150 countries participated in the survey - a new record (Graphic: WHO)

The problem is that a decreasing number of diagnoses does not necessarily indicate fewer new cases of the illness, as the statistics only reflect the numbers who have undergone examination in a health facility. And because leprosy attracts a high degree of social stigma, the number of people who do not consult a doctor is likely to be correspondingly high.

For this reason, it would be more meaningful for the statistics to be based on newly diagnosed individuals already suffering from visible impairments (grade 2 disability G2D) as a consequence of their condition. These figures can serve as indicators for the effectiveness of early detection programs.

Global G2D rate drops
Against this backdrop, one of the goals of the WHO is to reduce the G2D rate in new cases to less than one case per million inhabitants. Indeed, this global average fell from 2.5 in 2015 to 1.6 in 2017. Paul Saunderson, Head of the Technical Commission of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP), writes: «It is difficult to call this a trend – almost the entire decline occurred in India and Indonesia – but we will watch this development with interest.»

In India, a part of the early detection mechanism for leprosy is also provided by FAIRMED. Among others activities, in the state of Maharashtra we support leprosy control activities for the early detection of diseases and the reduction of leprosy-related disabilities. Throughout, we deploy our resources where government-run programs are unable to locate or treat all of those affected and in need of help.