Practitioners get closer to leprosy eradication in Nigeria
With a prevalence of 1-in-100,000 people, medical experts have revealed Nigeria was getting closer to phasing out the leprosy endemic but reiterated the need for increased health awareness to reduce ignorance about the disease.They noted that the country was gradually moving from elimination to eradication stage targeting a prevalence level of one-in-every -one million people by 2025.
Speaking recently at a seminar in Lagos to commemorate the 2019 world leprosy day celebration, the practitioners however lamented the spate of discrimination and low level of awareness amongst Nigerians, describing it as a great challenge which hinders it eradication process.
The Federal Government had recently also expressed worries over the continued presence of undetected Leprosy cases, especially among children in the country.
With the theme, “Elimination of Discrimination, Stigmatization and Prejudice”, the event was organised by Voice of Humanitarian Aid Foundation (VOHAF).
Health practitioners including Medical Officer of Health (M.O.H) for Ikeja Local Government Area, Dr. Taiwo Giwa; Tuberculosis/Leprosy Supervisor, Ikeja, Oladimeji Joseph; M.O.H for Ojiolu LGA, Dr. Okonnme Enne; Leprosy Consultant at Hansen Disease Centre, Dr. Akinrinbola Isaac, amongst others.According to Giwa, there have been concerted efforts between states, federal government as well as international communities to eradicate the disease in the country, which are already yielding positive results.
He noted that despite the downward trend of prevalence, eradication of the disease is being stunted by isolation, discrimination and stigmatization of persons living with leprosy.Describing leprosy as one of the leading permanent physical deformity, he said early detection would ensure an effective treatment.National Co-ordinator, VOHAF, Franca Emekobun said mistaken beliefs about the disease as being highly contagious, a taboo, hereditary and heaven’s punishment as the greatest challenge of people living with the disease, adding that prevention and treatment through early detention prevents deformity, which ultimately stops discrimination.
She noted that patients of leprosy in the country remained citizens and should not be denied access to good health facilities, education and safe environment.Known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy is caused by a type of bacteria otherwise known as mycobacterium leprae and is known to multiply very slowly. Its incubation period is said to be between 5 years while symptoms can take 20 years to appear and it mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves.
Throughout its history, leprosy has been feared and misunderstood with several mythical and cultural undertone attached to it. For a long time, it was thought to be a hereditary disease, a curse, or a punishment from God as there are stories in the Bible that suggests this. Before and even after the discovery of its biological cause, leprosy patients were stigmatized and shunned. Contrary to social stigma, it is not highly contagious, and does not cause body parts to fall off.
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