Once considered incurable, treatment widely available
The number of leprosy patients in Egypt has started to fall again, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO).
The United Nations body reported 134 leprosy patients in 2005.
“[The number of] leprosy cases reported in 2003 is 1,412, while in 2004 it was 1,216. This shows that the trend is slightly decreasing in number of cases in recent years, says Mona Yassin from the EMRO information center.
The organization, however, was reluctant to give information regarding the available medical facilities in the country.
According to the WHO website, some of the countries still registering leprosy cases include Brazil, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Nepal with up to 290,000 people around the world being treated for the disease.
Caused by the bacteria mycobacterium leprae, leprosy mainly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, and eyes. The bacteria multiply very slowly over an average five year incubation period. Symptoms can take 20 years to appear.
Mistakenly thought to be highly contagious, leprosy has long been one of the world s most stigmatized diseases because it was once incurable and can be disfiguring.
Transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contact with sufferers, the disease is not thought to be very contagious. Most will not develop the disease even if exposed to it – 95 percent of the world s population has a natural immunity.
According to WHO, global estimates decreased 50 percent from 10-12 million cases in 1985 to 5.3 million in 1991. Around 410,000 new cases were detected during 2004, compared to a peak of 804,000 in 1998.
Leprosy has long been addressed by the medical community and the prognosis has brightened considerably in comparison to what it once was. Experts at the first International Leprosy Congress in 1897 agreed it was incurable and that patients must be isolated. Sufferers were historically ostracized by their communities and banished to leper colonies.
The medical name for the condition is Hansen s disease after Dr Armauer Hansen of Norway, who was the first to see the leprosy bacteria under a microscope in 1873.
Effective treatment became available in the 1940s, after the development of the drug dapsone, which arrests the disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends taking a once-a-month multi-drug therapy of three drugs: dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine, for twelve months. Available free to all leprosy patients, the drugs kill the pathogen and combat drug resistance when taken in combination.
Nevertheless, leprosy is still considered a public health problem in nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They account for about 75 percent of the global disease burden. With additional sourcing from the World Health Organization