World Leprosy Day 2018: Zero disabilities in girls and boys

The Ministry of Health joins the rest of the world in observing World Leprosy Day on January 28, 2018. The day aims to raise awareness of a disease that many people believe to be extinct.  However, official figures from 145 countries show the global registered leprosy cases at 216 108. While elimination of leprosy as public health problem (defined as less than 1 registered case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000, World Leprosy Day is a time to remember the hundreds of people around the world who are still diagnosed with leprosy every day. 

The theme for 2018 is Zero Disabilities in Girls and Boys. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, causes nerve damage and muscle weakness that can lead to permanent impairment if not diagnosed and treated. Today, children continue to be diagnosed with visible disabilities. Disabilities do not occur overnight, but happen after a prolonged period of undiagnosed disease. Early detection and scaling up of interventions are fundamental to preventing Hansen’s disease transmission.

The Ministry of Health’s Hansen's Disease Control Unit holds joint Hansen's Disease and Dermatology clinics twice a month at Health Centres in Arima, Chaguanas, George Street - Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Sangre Grande, and St. Joseph. In Tobago, a Dermatology clinic is held once a month.

By working together and through early case detection, diagnosis and treatment and social inclusion, the world can move one step closer to eliminating Hansen’s disease.

 

KEY FACTS 

  • Hansen’s disease is a chronic disease caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae.
  • The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes.
  • The disease is spread through droplets from the nose or mouth of a patient to the skin and respiratory tract of another person. Transmission requires close and frequent prolonged contact with an untreated, infected person. About 95% of people have natural immunity against Hansen’s disease.
  • The bacteria multiply slowly, and the average time from exposure to the bacteria to development of symptoms is 5 years. In some cases, symptoms may occur within 1 year, but can also take as long as 20 years to occur.
  • Hansen’s disease should be suspected if a person shows the following signs and symptoms:
  • dark-skinned people might have light patches on the skin, while pale-skinned people have darker or reddish patches
  • loss or decrease of sensation in the skin patch
  • numbness or tingling of the hand or feet
  • weakness of the hands, feet or eyelids
  • painful or tender nerves
  • swelling or lumps in the face or earlobes
  • painless wounds or burns on the hands or feet.
  • Hansen’s disease is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT), and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.
  • Untreated, Hansen’s disease can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.

For more information please contact the Ministry of Health’s Hansen's Disease Control Unit at 622-3904.  

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