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Leprosy stigma still haunts India

AAP logoAAP 2/10/2016

India was officially declared free from leprosy more than a decade ago, but the country still houses numerous people with the disease, which continues to carry a stigma prevalent since Biblical times.

In 2005, it was announced that India had eradicated leprosy with a prevalence index of less than one case for every 100,000 residents.

However, 60 per cent of the more than 210,000 remaining cases in the world are found in India, according to data from the World Health Organisation and the Indian government.

"Currently, there are many hidden cases, because leprosy takes years to appear after it is contracted," Dr Anil Kumar, who is in-charge of the government's anti-leprosy program, told EFE.

The challenge is detecting each case as soon as possible, not only to contain its propagation but also to prevent the deformities it can cause.

As well as fighting the bacteria that causes the disease, the Indian government is also fighting to end the stigma leprosy carries.

Contrary to beliefs that have prevailed over centuries, nearly 99 per cent of people are immune or resistant to the bacteria that causes leprosy, and there is a cure for it.

In India, there are some 700 colonies in which lepers live together with healthy people.

"Society has to change its mentality, although now there is greater acceptance of lepers and less people shun them," said Dr Rajeev Joy Nathan from the nearby hospital, which collaborates in the government's drive against leprosy.

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