Leprosy in India: Is the disease gaining ground?

Although India announced the elimination of leprosy as a public health issue as far back as 2005, experts now fear a resurgence of the disease. Above all in rural areas, efforts to eradicate the disease still have a long way to go.

Early detection of the disease is essential for successful treatment.

“The government is in a state of denial about the levels of leprosy in the country”,” said Vineeta Shanker, director of the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation, in an article featured in medical journal "The Lancet". In the same piece, journalist Sophie Cousins presents the opinions of a range of experts on current efforts to combat leprosy in India.

They paint a bleak picture: “The announcement of the elimination of leprosy as a public health issue was a mistake. Later, the government realised new cases are everywhere," said leprosy expert Vijay Garg. Overall, the experts featured in the article agree that the official figures for leprosy are an "underestimation" of reality. Researcher Oommen C. Kurian from the Observer Research Foundation is convinced that in rural areas in particular, the elimination of leprosy as a public health issue is far from over.

“This time for real”
FAIRMED Country Coordinator John Kurian George takes a more differentiated view. Although he believes that the announcement of the elimination of the disease was "premature", he denies that the government is perpetuating falsehoods on the issue.

“It took until October for Anil Kumar, deputy director general of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to admit that the eradication of leprosy as a public health issue was not in fact correct," according to George. “I think this is the first big step towards solving the problem.” In addition, Kumar has initiated numerous activities that will ultimately lead to the elimination of leprosy. "And this time for real," commented an optimistic Kurian George.

Among other activities, FAIRMED supports leprosy control measures in India that work towards the early detection of disease and the reduction of leprosy-related disabilities. As with all our projects, we work closely alongside local authorities and exclusively with local employees.