A letter signed by Brasilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva this week will be made public on Sunday 29th Jan 2006,, in New Delhi, India, by the secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), Kofi Annan. The letter depicts Hansen’s disease [which used to be referred to as leprosy] not only as a health problem but as a human rights question as well. The letter will be endorsed by 12 world leaders, including the Tibetan leader, Dalai Lama, and the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. The letter signed by president Lula places Hansen’s disease under human rights protection, that is, it becomes a matter for the United Nations Human Rights Commission to accompany,"
According to some reports, India is home to nerarly 40 Lakhs of leprosy patients. But officially, as of March 31, 2004 there were 2.66 lakh recorded leprosy patients and 17 states and Union Territories have achieved the national prevalence level. There are seven states including Karnataka that are nearing the national level.
Even as the Central Government and the World Health Organisation are making efforts to eliminate leprosy from India by 2005-end, voluntary organisations apprehend that declaring India “leprosy free” will adversely affect leprosy patients.
Leprosy is said to have been eliminated in a country if its prevalence drops to less than one per 10,000 people. With WHO support, the Union Health Ministry hopes to achieve it by 2005-end.
“But even if the prevalence is less than one, because of India’s huge population there will be 100,000 patients every year. What will happen to them? Till 2007, the government assured support to the leprosy eradication. But what will happen after 2007?” said, Dr C S Walter, Director of Leprosy Mission —a 130-year-old voluntary organisation. He said leprosy should be one of the priority areas in the country as there are districts that still have not achieved the national prevalence rate of 2.44.
The second phase of the World Bank-funded leprosy elimination project ended last year after which the Centre had committed itself to funding till the Tenth Plan period. “People funding the leprosy programme may not fund it any longer,” said Mr P K Gopal, a human rights activist working with leprosy patients.
“We are getting carried away with the elimination programme. The reality is that the bug is here to stay. In 2004 we had 400,000 new cases and 10,000 people acquired deformity,” Dr J P Mulyil, an epidemiologist from Christian Medical College, Vellore said.
Leprosy is an infectious and contagious infirmity caused by bacilli. It is not hereditary, and its course depends upon the characteristics of the victim’s immunological system. The main symptoms are: numbness in the tips of the hands and feet, white and reddish spots anywhere in the body, generally with diminished sensitiveness to heat, cold, pain, and touch, and loss of muscle strength.