Pub­lic health

Elim­i­nat­ing lep­rosy by 2020 in coun­try called pos­si­ble

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By DU­JUAN du­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

After decades of ef­fort against lep­rosy, the pos­si­bil­ity of elim­i­nat­ing the dis­ease in China is pos­si­ble by 2020, ac­cord­ing to Ann Aerts, head of the No­var­tis Foun­da­tion, on Tues­day.

Erad­i­ca­tion is mea­sured by the re­duc­tion of new cases over time.

Be­cause lep­rosy has an in­cu­ba­tion pe­riod of five to 10 years, a per­son ac­quir­ing symp­toms to­day may have been in­fected years ago. But the dis­ease has been in de­cline in China and is ex­pected to trickle to a halt by 2020.

Aerts spoke with China Daily dur­ing the 19th In­ter­na­tional Lep­rosy Congress in Bei­jing.

Lep­rosy is in­fec­tious but cur­able. The or­gan­ism that causes it, my­cobac­terium lep­rae, has the unique abil­ity to in­fect the pe­riph­eral nerves in hu­mans, which may re­sult in an in­abil­ity to feel pain in the hands or feet, blind­ness and the loss of fin­gers or toes.

Cur­rently, China de­tects around 600 to 700 new lep­rosy pa­tients an­nu­ally. They can re­ceive im­me­di­ate treat­ment through the coun­try’s health­care sys­tem, which has suc­cess­fully re­duced trans­mis­sion of the dis­ease, Aerts said.

Glob­ally, around 211,000 peo­ple were di­ag­nosed with lep­rosy in 2015— an av­er­age of one every 2.5 min­utes. Of those, 1 in 11 are chil­dren, in­di­cat­ing con­tin­ued trans­mis­sion of the dis­ease.

It is es­ti­mated that 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple are vis­i­bly and ir­re­versibly dis­abled by lep­rosy, the foun­da­tion said. In­dia, In­done­sia and Brazil ac­count for 85 per­cent the lep­rosy pa­tients world­wide. They are learn­ing from China’s ex­pe­ri­ence, Aerts said.

“China has kept the level of knowl­edge on lep­rosy high among health­care work­ers, which has been ben­e­fi­cial for bring­ing the dis­ease un­der con­trol,” she said. “In some coun­tries, lep­rosy no longer fig­ures in the ed­u­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum for nurses and doc­tors, and that has led to a gen­eral wan­ing of lep­rosy ex­per­tise, re­sult­ing in missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and de­layed di­ag­noses.”

For now, what China needs to do is in­ter­rupt trans­mis­sion — for ex­am­ple, by ex­am­in­ing the fam­ily mem­bers and neigh­bors of ex­ist­ing pa­tients and of­fer­ing preven­tive treat­ment, she said.

No­var­tis, a Switzer­land­based health­care com­pany, pro­vides anti-lep­rosy medicine free and has do­nated more than 56 mil­lion blis­ter packs val­ued at around $90 mil­lion through the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has helped to treat more than 6 mil­lion lep­rosy pa­tients around the globe since 2000.

FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY

In their wheel­chairs, lep­rosy vic­tims Huang Shaokuan (left), 90, and Chen Yan­fang, 80, visit the Palace Mu­seum in Bei­jing on Tues­day. They are del­e­gates from Guang­dong prov­ince to the 19th In­ter­na­tional Lep­rosy Congress. Both were dis­abled by the dis­ease dur­ing child­hood.

Ann Aerts, head of the No­var­tis Foun­da­tion

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