Thousands still suffering from leprosy in Western Pacific, WHO says
Feb 13, 2012, 8:36 GMT
Manila - Leprosy still afflicts more than 5,000 new patients each year in the Western Pacific despite being considered eliminated in the region by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 1991, officials said Monday.
'Leprosy is still much alive in the Western Pacific,' said Shin Young-Soo, WHO regional director. Policymakers, health workers and the public should not be misled that the disease is totally gone and must continue to fight it, he said.
Prevalence of leprosy has declined by 90 per cent since 1991, and the region only had 0.05 cases of leprosy under treatment per 10,000 members of population in 2010, well below the 1-per-10,000 threshold used by the WHO to define elimination.
But with a total population of around 1.8 billion across 37 countries, that still amounted to nearly 8,400 people.
'My fear is that our commendable achievement of the elimination target could be misinterpreted as true elimination and lead us down a path of complacency,' Shin said.
'This would be disastrous for people who are most at risk of contracting the disease.'
Three countries in the region - Micronesia, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands - have failed to meet the technical definition of leprosy elimination, Shin said during a three-day meeting of national leprosy control programme managers in Manila.
Two-thirds of new cases occur in the Philippines and China, he added.
Shin said detection efforts should also be stepped up to ensure that patients receive treatment before the disease disables them.
'We have free drugs, we have the knowledge, and if we can find the patients, we can treat them and stop transmission.'