World Leprosy Day 2016 can mark a turning point in our fight against leprosy, if we join hands
Leprosy enjoys the dubious distinction of being one of the oldest diseases that mankind has known. While several devastating, potentially fatal diseases like yellow fever, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and small pox have been eradicated, we continue to battle against leprosy. This is particularly true in the Indian context. C.M. Agarwal, the Ex- Dy. Director General, Central Leprosy Division and head of the government’s National leprosy eradication program, was quoted in a April 2015 report, cautioning that the dreaded disease seemed to be in resurgence. He expressed the concern that, after the official declaration of India’s leprosy free status in 2005, complacency had set in, and this may be the reason why leprosy’s re-emergence took place under the government’s radar.
The government cannot be held responsible
However, it is highly unfair to hold the Indian government responsible or to attribute blame to the authorities in any way for this unfortunate turn of events. The truth is, that when leprosy statistics showed a dramatic dip and when the measures in place seemed to have brought the disease under control, the government shifted some of its focus to other diseases that were raging unchecked.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when the prevalence rate of a disease in a nation falls below one case in a population of 10,000, the government can declare that the disease is no longer a public health risk. India met this criteria in 2005, leading to the leprosy free country declaration. Even today, the national prevalence rate has not exceeded the WHO threshold, however, this is not true of all areas across the country.
The conclusion that we can draw from these facts is that we, as a nation, have been successful in gaining the upper hand over this dreaded disease. So there is no question ifwe can do it again, this time with even better success than ever before, thanks to the health advancements that have taken place in the decade that has passed since 2005.
This World Leprosy Day can be a new beginning
Every year, the last Sunday of January is celebrated as World Anti- Leprosy Dayand in the Indian context, it is particularly fitting as it falls on or close to the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Father of the Nation worked tirelessly to improve the life of India’s leprosy afflicted. It is a fitting tribute to the great man who always put the welfare of marginalised before his own life that we dedicate his death anniversary to this social cause.
Let this World Leprosy Day become a turning point in our fight against leprosy. Let this become the day you take your first step to become an ambassador for the government, for the many organizations- private and government, that are working tirelessly to eliminate this disease, and to help the leprosy afflicted enjoy their rightful place in society.
Leprosy is not just the ‘government’s responsibility. It is, in fact, a cross to bear for every Indian who wants his nation to progress and every citizen to contribute to this growth. It is in our hands to make sure that when India declares itself leprosy free in the coming years, there is no lingering doubt about whether or not the disease will make a re-appearance.
You can make a difference in the nation’s fight against leprosy, by educating yourself about this disease, learning how it spreads and understanding how it can be checked and treated at the right time. You can make a difference by spreading awareness about the disease and educating others, particularly, those who do not have the privilege of education. You can make a difference today, right now, by vowing to stop viewing the leprosy afflicted as second class citizens and by doing your bit to give them a life of dignity.