Cases of leprosy detected among migrant labourers returning from their employment abroad has reignited the conversation on the much-stigmatised disease.
Doctors in Jhapa, Nepal have detected cases of leprosy among people returning to the country from their employment in the Middle East. Reports point to five cases of returing migrant workers diagnosed with leprosy in the district before the world observed the leprosy day on Sunday, an international day dedicated to increasing public awareness of leprosy or Hansen’s disease.
Officials of the Jhapa district leprosy programme informed that two cases were detected with leprosy in Buddhashanti rural municipality and one each in Jhapa rural municipality, Damak municipality and Birtamod municipality.
The individuals are being treated for leprosy, the Chief of Nepal Leprosy District Programme Parashuram Pokharel confirmed.
He said that the case of all five individuals coming returning from the same region confirms a link, though he did not elaborate on the link. “Normally, many live together in a room during their stay in foreign countries during employment”, he said, indicating that this amplifies the risk of leprosy.
Young children a concern
According to Bishwonath Shrestha, the public health inspector at the district health office in Jhapa, as many as 36 new leprosy-infected were found in the district as of mid-December 2021. These include two young children as well.
The government’s leprosy elimination programme has a thrust on identifying cases of leprosy among young people in the under-14 age group and the detection of leprosy among children is especially disconcerting. This, however, is not an entirely new phenomenon, officials said. The office had also identified 10 children with leprosy in the district last year. Similarly, 17 children were among 159 leprosy patients diagnosed in the Anandaban leprosy care centre in Lalitpur in 2018.
The people diagnosed with leprosy have been administered with a course of medicines and a few are also referred for rehabilitation at the leprosy service center in Lalgadh (Dhanusha) and Anandabhawan (Lalitpur).
Parashuram Pokharel, however, said that the numbers have been coming down and the intense surveillance is helping. “The number of people with leprosy however is on declining trend in the district in the last four years,” he said, pointing out that 21 people were diagonised with leprosy last year.
Image from Wikimedia: Leprosy patients showing symptoms (Colour lithograph, 1950s) from Wellcome Images