Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia
As part of efforts geared towards effective control of leprosy in Nigeria, the federal government has intensified the process of integrating leprosy control into the nation’s healthcare services.
Minister of health, Professor Isaac Adewole, made this known at Umuahia during a press conference in commemoration of the 2017 World Leprosy Day with the theme ‘Zero disability among children affected by leprosy’.
He said that the integration of leprosy control in the healthcare services was in line with the Bangkok Declaration of July 2013 which “emphasised importance of involvement and participation of communities and people affected by leprosy including efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination.”
To this end, the Health Minister said that the ministry has embarked on continued provision of training for all health workers, institute a renewed focus on preventing disability and promote socio-economic rehabilitation, as well as community development in partnership with people affected by leprosy.
“We will also continue to collaborate with World Health Organisation (WHO) to ensure free supply of MDT (multi drug therapy) to our patients,” he said, adding that the federal Ministry of Health was committed to “working assiduously with partners to ensure effective and sustained control of leprosy.”
Adewole, who was in Abia for the 59th National Council on Health meeting, described leprosy as “an ancient disease that has caused a lot of misery to humans”, adding that the five year National Leprosy and Buruli Ulcer Strategic Plan (2016 – 2020) was still on course.
According to him, strategic plan “facilitates the implementation of appropriate strategies to increase case detection, improve treatment outcome, prevent disabilities and provide rehabilitation services to affected persons.”
The Health Minister said that despite that Nigeria had achieved the WHO elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 populations at the national level, “leprosy still poses a challenge due to pockets of high endemicity in some communities in some states.”
He identified the 15 states where leprosy is still endemic e to include Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Bauchi, Taraba, Niger, Kogi, Ebonyi, Abia, Cross River, Edo, Ogun, Osun and Lagos.
“Of utmost concern is the existence of new leprosy cases that are reported each year among the general population including children and those with grade 2 disability, adding that in 2015 a total of 2, 892 new leprosy cases were notified, among which nine per cent were children and 15 per cent have grade 2 disabilities because of late presentation at the healthcare facilities,” Adewole said.
He also said that stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families was still a major challenge in Nigeria while old mistaken beliefs about the disease still hold sway as people still believe that leprosy is highly contagious, hereditary, heaven’s punishment.
“These have negatively affected persons with leprosy even after they are cured (hence) leprosy requires a concerted response from all stakeholders,” the minister noted.