India's fight against leprosy: A step towards national healing

It is a fight that keeps getting challenging by the day due to the stigma of “What will the society think?” All that the patients ask for is to lead a dignified and independent life. It has been 12 years since leprosy was officially declared a non-existent disease in 2005 as a public health concern in India when new cases fell to less than 1 per 10,000. Astonishingly, India still accounts for the highest number (around 60%) of leprosy affected people in the whole world. This is possibly due to the sheer volume of the population-explosion numbers in India, which is set to take over China in 2056. Reasons for such numbers stem from the fact that there has been less educational influence on the public. Lack of awareness, socio-cultural beliefs, and age old myths are probably the most pressing problems before the beautiful India as a diversified yet united nation.
The cause for Leprosy and its symptoms
Leprosy is caused by a slow-multiplying bacterium, mycobacterium leprae, which starts damaging the small nerves in the skin’s surface, causing discolored patches with little to no feeling; it affects the nervous system of the limbs. Thus, symptoms could be numbness where the, patients can’t feel the pain thus, leading to loss of limb parts (not due to the disease), which makes them suffer burns, ulcers without their realization. Also, eyelids get damaged; victims can’t blink and have a flattened nose or clawed hand. It is a contagious disease though antiquated now and also Leprosy is one of the least infectious diseases. More than 85% leprosy cases are non-infectious as over 95% people have natural immunity and resistance to leprosy. It is not at all hereditary and can be cured by MDTs (Multi drug treatments).
Positive way forward
In future, after achieving the leprosy elimination targets at all levels, the emphasis will shift more towards policy changes and quality services sustenance (quality is which you can expect first from us at Leanspoon). To create awareness in the community, a lot of awareness programs have been taking place, like ‘a walk to beat leprosy’ is scheduled on January 29th at People’s Plaza Hyderabad by an NGO called LEPRA Society. Similarly, Maharashtra started a 15-day drive to detect undetected cases which includes timely diagnosis and complete MDT (Multi Drug Therapy) treatment of leprosy patients. It can lead to the ultimate eradication of the ailment, as this drive will be involved in large scale awareness and vaccination camps on the lines of Pulse Polio campaign. In Ranchi, Urban Development Department authorities were directed by their Chief Minister to conduct a survey of leprosy patients inhabiting various pockets in Ranchi for planning their proper rehabilitation. EDPAL (Elimination discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy) Bill has been introduced in the parliament.
Challenges Present
Majority of the concerns include

  1. Undetected new cases,
  2. Problems with leprosy integration,
  3. The presence of leprosy in children,
  4. Obsolete discriminating laws and
  5. Paucity of education and training for livelihoods.

A number over 4 million by 2020 from 2.6 million at 2012 is expected as a difference between the expected and the observed numbers of new cases of leprosy.
Many Leprosy institutes under the Directorate general of Health Services, based in Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal have been doing great research in this field and are training different categories of staff in the fight for leprosy elimination. But their services are reducing in quality as many doctors and health workers at the primary health care level are sometimes unable to detect silent neuritis, atypical presentations, or reactions at early stages. Sadly, many states prohibit leprosy patients from running in local elections and thus, deny them any employment privileges and benefits. Begging becomes the source of income for children as they aren’t able to afford higher education. There are around 300 obsolete laws, like an 1898 Act which discriminates against leprosy affected people, and is also a reason for divorce lawfully as per Hindu Marriage Act.
Positively speaking, we can see complete and optimistic eradication of Leprosy in the coming future, though it being one of the most misunderstood diseases of the world. Carefully, examination of practical and theoretical approaches of the past and Vedas can provide vital insights for the future. The existing burden can be reduced by developing a holistic approach that includes key policy changes, public education campaigns, sustainable livelihood programs, skill training workshops and bringing in other medical practitioners to generate employment, identify interventions to dispel unnecessary stigma. All of us need to come together and act as a change agent through our own defined powers personally and professionally to win this war.
A brief note on the diet during leprosy:
One must consume a diet rich in vitamins and minerals which will give energy to fight against this disease. Vitamin A helps improve the state of skin, vitamin B complex helps in reducing the symptoms and vitamin C helps in enhancing the immunity to fight against the disease-causing bacteria. Minerals such as zinc and calcium help in fighting the harmful bacteria which gives strength and hence improves fitness levels. Some of the important foods to include during leprosy are sweet potato, cabbage, broccoli, bell peppers, guava, yogurt, salmon, tofu etc. So, it is important to follow a balanced diet with right number of carbs, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Contact a nutritionist as they will be able to guide you about the right amount and contents required.
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