By Gabriel Olawale
Nigerians have been admonished to show love and care to people affected by leprosy rather than stigmatising or discriminating against them and their family members.
The National Coordinator, Voice of Humanitarian Aid Foundation, VOHAF, Evangelist Franca Emekobum, who gave the admonition in Lagos, said the situation is not those affected by the disease, but was a development that happened by chance.
Speaking at a seminar held to mark the 2019 World Leprosy Day activity themed: “Elimination of Discrimination, Stigmatisation and Prejudice”, Emekobum said that God has given the Foundation the mandate to rehabilitate and reintegrate people affected by leprosy and their family members back into the community where they have been neglected.
“Leprosy is not a curse, it is a disease and there are a lot of misconceptions about the diseas,” she remarked. “Leprosy is not hereditary, it is not a curse or taboo, is a common disease that anybody can contact. Early detection and treatment will prevent deformities so there should be no room for discrimination.”
Emekobum, in her commentary, pointed out the non-availability of medical assistance as part of the challenges confronting persons affected by leprosy.
“They find it very difficult to get access to medical facilities and by so doing, are exposed to other diseases and by the time those others diseases are detected, they are already at advanced stage that will attract deformity.
“What we are saying today is that, no more discrimination and stigmatisation. We should show care and love to people affect by leprosy and their family members. They have rights just all Nigerians and we need to recognise this rights and promote the rights.”
Corroborating her view, the Leprosy Consultant and representative of Damien Foundation Belgium, Akinrinbola Gbadebo, said that leprosy cases are declining in Nigeria compared to the prevalence rate of the 1970s and 1980s.
“Leprosy is an old disease that has been present since biblical times. The patients usually have reduced quality of life, due to the stigma as well as the physical symptoms.
“Early detection and proper management can, however, prevent lasting debilitating sequelae and reduce the impact of disease on the patient and the community.”
Gbadebo said although the disease is not confined to any particular race, it occurs more in the tropics. “Nigeria is one of the five countries, where leprosy is still considered endemic alongside India, Brazil, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
“Despite achieving the elimination target of less than one case detection per 10,000 population, as stated by the World Health Organisation in the year 2000, there are still pockets or clusters of leprosy with high endemic rates in different parts of the country.”
He worried that new cases of leprosy are still being recorded in the hospitals today, and most patients present at the late stages of the disease.
“This is largely due to ignorance and the stigma attached to the disease, which prevents patients from coming forward, as well as failure to detect the disease early.
“It is important for the public to know that anyone can contract leprosy, and it can occur at any age though rare in infants.”
On his part, Control Supervisor of Tuberculosis and Leprosy in Ikeja Local Government Area of Lagos State, Oladimeji Olasunkanmi explained that the disease is most likely transmitted through nasal droppings from untreated persons.
“Generally, most people don’t develop the disease, following exposure to the organism. Paucibacillary and Multibacillary leprosy are WHO’s classification of the disease, which employs such simple measures as the presence of skin lesions and detection of bacilli in skin smears to determine the treatment a patient should have.
“The leprosy elimination programmes across the country would ensure harmonisation of all efforts in the industry at all levels of healthcare delivery,” he concluded.