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‘Leprosy to plague Pakistan for next 20 years’

Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre registers up to 400 cases a year in Pakistan

By our correspondents
January 25, 2015
Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, is yet to be eradicated from Pakistan, as 300 to 400 new cases are registered at the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre (MALC) every year; it is estimated that the disease would continue to exist in the country for the next two decades.
“There is a need to create public awareness regarding leprosy, the possibility of its treatment and minimising the burden of the disease in our society,” MALC founder Dr Ruth Pfau told the media on Saturday.
“Since the MALC’s inception, more than 56,500 leprosy patients have been registered, of which 98 percent have been treated free of charge at 157 leprosy centres across Pakistan.”
The press briefing was held in connection with World Leprosy Day, observed every January 26, at the MALC’s head office in Karachi.
Besides Dr Ruth, Mervyn Lobo, MALC Consultant Leprosy Specialist Dr Mutahir Zia and Dr Ali Murtaza also talked to the media about the leprosy situation in the country.
The MALC experts said that since its inception in 1956, the centre had been working for the elimination of leprosy, tuberculosis and blindness from Pakistan, in addition to community development.
A well-knitted network of 157 control centres nationwide, mostly in remote areas, is functioning in close collaboration with the provincial governments and providing services to patients and communities free of charge.
Dr Ruth said World Leprosy Day not only symbolised our feelings of togetherness and love with patients afflicted with leprosy but also provided an opportunity to all of us working to eliminate leprosy to come together for renewing our commitment for a leprosy-free world.
In 1996 the prevalence of leprosy in Pakistan had reduced to the extent that the World Health Organisation (WHO) had declared the disease to be under control in the country – one of the first countries under WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office to achieve the goal.
“Leprosy elimination is successfully being achieved; however, elimination is not the end of leprosy,” said Dr Ruth.
“There are many challenges in terms of physical and social rehabilitation, which will go on even in the post-elimination phase.”
She said achievement of gradual elimination of leprosy would be possible with concentrated efforts by a team of committed workers.
She appealed to the people to do away with the stigma attached to the disease and the tendency to ostracise the afflicted.
Dr Zia said that according to the statistics available with the MALC, positive development was being witnessed, as prevalence rates were below the WHO recommended threshold – between 0.27 per 10,000 population in Karachi and 0.04 in Azad Kashmir – and were continuing to decrease.
With 1.68 per 100,000 population, incidence rates are up only in Karachi.
The rates of total patients are now so low that for Northern Areas, Azad Kashmir
and Balochistan, the percentage can no longer be calculated.
Of all the provinces, only Punjab, though a low prevalence area, is showing an increasing number of leprosy cases; otherwise trends are persistent.
Karachi is the focal point, as it is also treating patients from Balochistan and rural Sindh as well as Afghan refugees and those from other parts of the country.
He appealed to doctors, especially skin specialists, to cooperate with the MALC and provide necessary guidance to patients.
Dr Zia said around 6,461 leprosy patients had received free treatment for leprosy and general diseases along with comprehensive care to prevent deformity and aid rehabilitation.
As many as 10,086 precious lives were saved from tuberculosis: they received free treatment at the MALC, 57 percent of whom were women and children; 2,948 blind people have had their eyesight restored by surgeries, 204,630 people received free consultation and 61,727 children were protected from night blindness. Around 60 deformed and homeless patients received day care and medical services at the Ittehad Manzil (the MALC’s Home for Crippled Patients).
As many as 1,703 leprosy ulcer patients received indoor nursing care and surgical treatment free of charge at the wards of the MALC Hospital, while 141,912 skin patients received free consultation, lab services and treatment at the centre.