January 30, 2023

Act now to end leprosy, NMA tells FG

•Seeks sustained funding to ensure manpower, drugs

By Chioma Obinna

On this year’s World Leprosy Day, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr Uche Ojinmah has stressed the need for Nigeria to act now and end leprosy.

Ojinmah, who commended efforts made at controlling and eliminating the disease, called for more concerted efforts to meet the target of zero leprosy in 120 countries by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target.

In a statement signed by the NMA National Committee Chairman on Neglected Tropical Diseases, NTD, Dr. Sebastine Oiwoh, Ojinmah noted that timely prevention or early diagnosis from the time patient has that painless skin discoloration will help prevent the disability that later occurs.

Leprosy is an ancient, stigmatizing, infectious neglected tropical disease of man caused by Mycobacterium leprae.

Nigeria, in the last 10 years, has had above 2,000 cases annually except in 2020. The latest figure for 2021 is 2.398 according to the National Control Programme.

“It is one of the oldest diseases of mankind that, despite previous successes, has recently seen a downward global trend of diagnosis following the simultaneous COVID-19 pandemic.

“This caused a 30 percent drop below the 200,000 people annually diagnosed with leprosy before COVID-19 according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).”

He explained that the disabling disease has plagued mankind for at least 4,000 years through respiratory droplet infection as well as by prolonged contact.

He said depending on the burden of infection, it affects the lining of the upper respiratory tract, the skin, the peripheral nerves, and the eyes among others.

“It must be noted that it is not spread through casual contact like shaking hands or hugging, sharing meals, or, sitting next to a person with leprosy.

“It is curable and preventable if adequate health education, early presentation to the hospital with prompt diagnosis followed by timely treatment initiation, and adequate and sustained surveillance are ensured.”

Ojinmah added that through pragmatic collaboration among stakeholders, it is possible to eliminate leprosy but the time to start is now as Nigeria has the power and tools to stop transmission and defeat the disease.

He called for prioritisation of leprosy by using needed resources, commitment and political will while calling for sustained funding from states and the Federal government to ensure adequate manpower and availability of drugs at all times.