Maharashtra's leprosy numbers a strong reminder that the disease is still a strong threat
The Union Health Ministry has set a deadline of end 2018 to eliminate leprosy across India. However, just how strong the threat remains is evident from the fact that in Maharashtra, children account for 10.11% of the state's total leprosy burden.
This shows that the bacterial infection is still spreading among children. Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by mycobacteria laprae. This affects the skin and can lead to physical deformity and disfigurement.
Data from the Maharashtra government shows that until March 2018, 1,624 children were diagnosed with leprosy, of the total 16,065 patients in the state.
Of them, in 27% of the infected children, the disease has progressed into multi-bacillary. This is a condition where there are more than five skin lesions on the body.
India declared itself leprosy free in 2005 but in the last few years, the number of cases have risen across the country. The World Health Organisation has set a deadline for 2020 to completely eliminate deformities due to leprosy among children. But with newer cases coming up, experts believe the target may be hard to achieve for India.
This makes it necessary for the government to actively find the hidden leprosy population. Doctors say screening programs also need to be regular.
Rati Mishra, from the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP), pointed out that there are 119 provisions in the Constitution that are discriminatory against leprosy patients.
Mishra also says that the funding for the program is low, and there is a need for more human resources to screen patients door-to-door since stigma prevents patients from coming forward.