Truant patients are turning out to be a major impediment to leprosy treatment in the Capital.
More than half the people being treated free for leprosy under the Delhi state government programme are migrants. This has become a problem, as many leave the treatment mid-way to head back home, thinking that they are cured fully. But the truth is far from it.
"People from states such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh come to Delhi for treatment because of the stigma attached back home. It is very difficult to trace the migrant patient population as they leave the city as soon as they start seeing positive health results. No one stays around for the entire treatment period, which varies from six to 12 months," said Dr KS Baghotia, state leprosy officer, Delhi Government.
Like tuberculosis, leprosy can be completely cured with multi-drug therapy (MDT). "All newly-detected cases must be given MDT, which can prevent most disabilities," said Dr Baghotia.
During 2010-11, Delhi had 1,408 local cases and 1,318 cases from other states. Of them, 1,309 were still undergoing treatment till March 31 this year, while the rest had either completed treatment or had dropped out.
"The prevalence is 0.72 new cases per 10,000 population, which is about 1.36 lakh new cases every year. For the last two years, the absolute number has remained constant, which is worrying," said Yohei Saskawa, chairman, The Nippon Foundation and World Health Organisation (WHO) goodwill ambassador for leprosy elimination. Saskawa had a meeting with state health secretaries on Thursday.
"Leprosy is also growing in children, which indicates that the transmission of the disease is high. World Health Organisation emphasises stopping transmission in children, preventing disability and support-group involvement to bring down new cases," said Dr Nata Menabde, WHO representative in India.
"While Delhi is among the better performing states, there are several states where they don't have district-level leprosy officers," said Sasakawa, who is working towards eliminating the stigma associated with leprosy. "While numbers can still be tackled, social discrimination is a much bigger issue," he said. "India still has some 19 laws that are discriminatory against leprosy. WHO has taken up the matter with the government for reconsidering these laws," said Dr Menabde.