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Stigma Cripples India's Fight against Leprosy

Stigma Cripples India's Fight against Leprosy

Eight years ago, India declared leprosy an eliminated disease. But experts who counter the claim say the official figures are faulty, and that the number of leprosy cases is actually on the rise.

Although the ministry report noted that India's National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) has had success fighting the disease, many experts are urging caution. 

"When we found out that my fingers were disfigured because of leprosy, my wife and eldest son asked me to leave home. I ran a successful grocery store. I was reluctant to move out. They virtually forced me out of home," said 52-year-old Rana, who now begs for a living. 

Stigma Cripples India's Fight against Leprosy

Many leprosy patients remain hidden from society. According to the latest Indian health ministry report, 127,000 new leprosy cases were reported in the country in 2012, and among all new cases reported worldwide, more than half were in India.

"Many leprosy patients maintain secrecy about their disease because of the social stigma attached to it. They avoid visiting government or other affiliated hospitals where they fear people would know about their disease. They go to private doctors instead,” dermatologist Dr. Manas Biswas in West Bengal said.

According to a target set by the World Health Organization (WHO), a country can officially announce it has eliminated leprosy when there is less than one case for every 10,000 people - a prevalence rate (PR) of less than one. When effective Multi Drug Therapy for leprosy began in early 1980s, the PR in India was close to 58. 

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