January 30, 2019

Raising awareness #LeprosyEradicationDay

Today, 30th January, is remembered by most Indians as Gandhiji’s death anniversary. Gandhiji who played a major role in making our country a free nation, Gandhiji of the Sabarmati ashram and Satyagraha fame, Gandhi who brought forth the Dandi March and promoted non-violence. The use of the charkha and khaadi are often associated with the father of the nation.

However, what remains in the background is an important struggle that Gandhiji was involved in all through his lifetime...the struggle for eradication of leprosy.
It is therefore, that 30th January is also celebrated as ‘Leprosy Eradication Day’ in India.

India is a land of superstitions and myths. Although we have been successful in busting most of these old wives tales over the years, there are still a lot of misconceptions and illogical fears associated with diseases and infections.
Among these is the fear of leprosy and the people suffering from it. While most people are hesitant in even staying within talking range of the patients (insensitively termed as 'lepers' by the common man), there are others who harbor and spread false information regarding its spread and communicability. As a consequence, those who experience the symptoms often conceal them out of fear of the rejection and scorn from society, and sometimes even family.

Ergo, it becomes the responsibility of every aware member of the society that we become aware about this condition...and rid not just our society against this prejudice but also cleanse our own minds of the bias.

So let's start with the basics:

What is leprosy?
Leprosy is a chronic granulomatous infection that affects mainly the skin, mucous membrane, and nerves. It is caused by the bacteria M.Leprae (Mycobacterium. Leprae).
There are two types of leprosy:

  • Paucibacillary
  • Multibacillary
Leprosy is mildly contagious and is seen mostly in the lower socio-economic groups. 
It does not spread by touching or holding hands. 
M.Leprae cannot infect intact skin.

Leprosy is transmitted through nasal secretions or droplets. 

Genetic defects in the immune system may cause certain people to be more susceptible to the infection than others. 

Symptoms that should be watched out for:
Early symptoms include:
  • Numbness
  • Loss of temperature sensation
  • Pins and needles sensation
  • Reduced tactile (touch) sensation
  • Pain
  • Blisters/rashes/white patches
  • Bent fingers with ulcers
Late symptoms include:
  • Facial disfigurement 
  • Loss of digits
  • Large ulcers
Erythema Nodosum: Painful skin nodules accompanied by fever, neuritis, joint pain and edema. 

Leprosy, if detected at the right time can be treated and cured completely, and further complications can be prevented. However, there is no preventive measures for the infection. 
Diagnostic measures include skin smears and biopsy.

Currently, there is no vaccine against leprosy. 

(Only after and as adviced by consulting diagnostician/healthcare professional)

For paucibacillary Leprosy-
In Adults: 600mgs Rifampicin once a month
               +100 mgs Dapsone daily for six months. 

For multibacillary leprosy-
In Adults: 600 mgs Rifapicin once a month + 300 mgs Clofazimine once a month
              + 100 mg Dapsone daily 
               +50 mgs Clofazimine daily 

Towards a Leprosy-free India:
Leprosy treatment is free and available within easy reach. It is important to visit a dermatologist or nearby hospital on the first appearance of any of the related symptoms. 
However, most people shy away due to the stigma associated with the disease. The myths and discrimination against leprosy ends up being the cause of most cases of depression in patients. The brutal attitude of the society towards them makes them lose their will to live and fight the infection. Some stop treatment midway, while some others refuse to go for follow ups, thus resulting in complications and a fatal outcome. 
The microbe can be destroyed. It is eventually man who becomes the worst enemy of man. 

It is only we and we alone who can put an end to our ignorance. We must keep in mind that Leprosy is curable at any stage and is not a matter of shame. We, as educated citizens should make it a point to spread awareness about this disease. 
  • Through medical talks in schools, colleges, and other gatherings, we can clear the misconceptions about Leprosy. 
  • Be watchful for signs/symptoms in yourself and in your loved ones. 
  • Share the information via social media, in Whatsapp groups, via retweets.
  • Free yourself...of prejudice. Debunk those myths. 

Leprosy is not a curse. Neither is it a punishment, like some people believe it to be. It is simply an infection that can be fought with the right and timely treatment. 
It is simply a war that can be won by cleansing our minds of the fear and stigma associated with it.

Today, let's each take a step towards a Leprosy-free future!

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