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The challenges of leprosy case-finding in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, there is a great stigma attached to leprosy. Against this background, FAIRMED has to resort to unconventional methods in its efforts to combat the disease. Our deputy marketing director David Maurer was on the ground to see for himself how we accomplish this task.

Knowledge transfer at schools à la FAIRMED

A lack of knowledge about the first signs of leprosy and the fear of social exclusion mean that people in the island nation seldom take the initiative to have themselves examined. However, active case-finding is required to avoid the spread of the disease.

This poses a number of challenges: “If you knock on people’s door and tell them you want to examine them for leprosy, they won’t let you in because of the stigma of the disease,” explains David Maurer. This was his experience on a recent project visit to Sri Lanka, where he accompanied health workers on a door-to-door campaign coordinated by FAIRMED.

Information is everything
As Maurer reports, if you are carrying out general skin examinations, on the other hand, you are met with open minds and open doors, as skin diseases such as fungal infections are widespread in rural Sri Lanka. “If any signs of leprosy are detected, the person is informed about the curability and the treatment options.” FAIRMED then initiates the necessary steps for treatment in cooperation with the local authorities. “But that's only possible if people open their door for you,” says Maurer.

In general, good information and the communication of knowledge among the general population are the essential components for combating stigma. Among other activities, FAIRMED produces informational materials for healthcare workers and educational comics for local newspapers, and also promotes knowledge dissemination in schools.“Through humorous puppet shows, for example, which are especially popular with young students," explains Maurer.