Leprosy a Secret Epidemic in India

Mar 25, 2011, 18:16 by Greg Stacy

Leprosy is a secret epidemic in India, despite claims by the Indian government that the disease has been conquered.

According to a new report in the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper, 130,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) in India each year. India has more new cases every year than the rest of the globe combined. According to the World Bank, that's partly because of India's teeming population of more than a billion people, but another factor is that India's government has sharply cut funding to fight the disease.

India announced it had eradicated the disease in 2005, despite the fact that several hundred thousand patients were still in leper colonies at the time. According to a target set by the World Health Organisation, a nation can announce 'elimination' when there are fewer than one case for every 10,000 people. While this is technically correct for India, in real terms the disease is obviously far from eliminated.

In the years since India declared itself free of the disease, government funding to prevent leprosy has been redirected into the general health system while charities for leprosy have suffered a sharp decrease in funding.

Leprosy is an ancient and terrible disease. It attacks the victim's nerve endings, compromising their ability to feel pain. This often leaves the victim susceptible to wounds and infections. These infections can eventually lead to lose their fingers, toes or even whole limbs. The disease can also lead to facial disfigurement and blindness.

There is a lot of social stigma associated with leprosy. Although 95 percent of humans are naturally immune to the disease, the belief persists that is highly contagious and sufferers are often sent away to leper colonies.

America only sees approximately 150-250 cases of leprosy, usually in immigrants who have recently arrived from areas of the world where the disease is more common.

Source: The Guardian