EIGHTY-EIGHT people, including 12 children, have been diagnosed with leprosy this month in one city in India, during a drive to diagnose cases missed during the pandemic.
The Bombay Leprosy Project said that it was the highest number of new cases detected for 15 years. Several of the cases had already progressed, and those affected will be left with permanent disfigurement.
Health officials in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, said that the proportion of cases of advanced leprosy had increased, owing to lack of early detection services during the pandemic.
More than 10,000 suspected cases of leprosy have been detected in the special drive, which has been carried out by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Health officials said that there was now a large backlog of cases of people requiring treatment.
The director of the Bombay Leprosy Project, Dr V. V. Pai, said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, health-care services were diverted toward Covid-19 management, and new leprosy case detection was suspended. The referral services and treatment services were also affected. This diversion has led to a huge backlog of cases that are now being detected with the special drive. Grade-2 (visible) leprosy disability occurs if someone with leprosy has not taken treatment for more than two years.
“The need for surveillance of treated patients, for identifying clinical events such as reaction, nerve damage, disability, relapse, is very important, and also screening of contacts of treated patients for new case detection is essential.”
The UK charity St Francis Leprosy Guild is a partner of the project. Its chief executive, Clare McIntosh, said that she was “shocked to hear these new case numbers in Mumbai, though not entirely surprised. When you find children with leprosy, it shows that the disease has been spreading in a community. Some of these children may be suffering from visible disabilities caused by leprosy which will affect them for life.
“It is clear that there has been no health care provided for people with leprosy during the Covid-19 pandemic. I strongly urge governments in those locations to scale up their health-care provision and step up their leprosy programmes again.”
India has the largest number of the world’s leprosy cases. Last year, nearly two-thirds of new cases were diagnosed in India. Leprosy is now easily treatable, however, without any permanent disfigurement if caught early enough.
Prejudice against people with leprosy still persists, with almost 100 laws still existing in states in India that allow discrimination against sufferers.