Leprosy, which had been eliminated in Chandigarh years ago, is back with 128 new cases coming to the fore from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, in the UT. The union territory is getting a fresh case of leprosy every third day, says district leprosy officer Dr Simrat Kaur.
Of these new cases, 121 are migrants, while seven are permanent residents of the city with nearly 70% of the those afflicted being males.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious, but curable bacterial disease, that mainly affects the skin and the eyes. Leprosy is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age.
From 2009 to 2012, the prevalence of leprosy was well under one for every 10,000 population, which is considered as elimination of the disease. In 2013, the rate crossed 1 per 10,000 people and it still stays over one according to the latest data for 2016-17, officials say.
Dr Kaur attributes the increasing prevalence of leprosy to the rising population of migrants from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Explaining the rise in cases, officers handling the National Leprosy Education Programme (NLEP) in the city say that incubation period of the disease could be several years. Often the cases are detected very late, even a few years after one is afflicted.
The disease, which is curable and often attracts social ostracism because of ignorance, is mainly prevalent among the lower strata in the UT.
“But one or two cases are also from the upper strata,” says an officer.
Though the figures suggest there is a slight decline in the number of cases, Dr Kaur says the fall is marginal. “The number of affected persons is high. Even the government of India is worried. The union health ministry has been funding annual surveys for the past couple of years.”
Four clinics in Sectors 16, 32, PGI and Manimajra provide free leprosy treatment.
The doctors say that the disease is contagious only in the later stages and even then one dose of medicine can nearly eliminate the risk of infection.
Pointer to a trend
While 128 cases were reported in 2016-17, 136 and 142 cases were reported in 2015-16 and 2014-15. 144 cases were reported in 2013-14.