Experts and advocates discuss new strategies – global issues

Yohei Sasakawa – WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Eradication and President of the Sasakawa Health Foundation speaking at the third “Don’t Forget Leprosy” webinar series organized by the Sasakawa Health Foundation on December 2. Credit: Stella Paul
  • Written by Stella Paul (Hyderabad)
  • Interpress service

On Thursday, in a webinar organized by Sasakawa Health Foundation, The World Health Organization (WHO) More than 150 members of several organizations of people affected by leprosy have expressed concerns about the re-emergence of leprosy as new cases continue to emerge. In the Comoros, in East Africa, hundreds of new cases have been detected on the smaller islands, and many of those affected are children.

“We have conducted mini case-finding campaigns in targeted areas in Anjouan and Moheli (Comoros) with the help of community health workers and have discovered new cases including children aged 15 years and over,” said Dr. Abubakar Muzambiba. Director of the National Leprosy and Tuberculosis Program at the Ministry of Health, Comoros.

Data shared by Zambia shows that in 2020, there were 217 new cases, which rose to 239 in 2021. About 33 percent of children have leprosy, he said, and the government aims to reduce that percentage to 10 percent.

The increasing number of cases among children was “a concern,” said Bimarago Fe Rao, acting team leader, Global Leprosy Programme, WHO.

Rao, who also facilitated the webinar, said that since cases continue to be underreported in many regions of the world, it is essential to continue current strategies for detecting and managing leprosy cases, including house-to-house visits, strengthening local health facilities and regular training. and supervision of health workers.

Tesfaye Tadesse, Director-General of the Ethiopian National Association of People with Leprosy (ENAPAL), said the organization has been at the forefront of Ethiopia’s battle to eradicate leprosy. It is also concerned with protecting the dignity and rights of those affected by leprosy.

In the webinar, Tesfaye highlighted how COVID has undermined leprosy in Ethiopia despite the continued growth of new cases. Also, fear of social exclusion has led people to seek alternative treatments, such as healing with religion.

“This year we discovered 21 new cases, many of them in the holy water areas of the Amhara region,” he added. “People are so afraid of social stigma, that instead of seeking medical treatment, they will collect holy water for their treatment,” he added.

Because stigma and discrimination remain a challenge across countries and cultures, people with leprosy have emerged as a cohesive community. They take the opportunity to meet at any community event and share each other’s struggles and victories. At Thursday’s webinar, the third in a series of virtual seminars under the Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign, participants and speakers can be seen encouraging each other and freely sharing their ideas.

When Kofi Nyarko – a person affected by leprosy from Ghana, emphasized the importance of early detection and appropriate treatment without stigma to prevent disability in leprosy, participants from other countries were quick to express their support and encouragement.

However, to win their fight in the post-pandemic era, the leprosy-affected community will need more outside support as well, said Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Eradication and President of the Sasakawa Health Foundation.

According to Sasakawa, whose foundation has been instrumental in providing financial, technical, and moral support to leprosy organizations worldwide, a leprosy-free world cannot be achieved through a technocratic approach alone. A rights-based and people-centred approach that emphasizes the full dignity and equality of the community affected by leprosy is critical to achieving the goal.

Therefore, the support of the new allies will be vital – and Sasakawa advised participants to look for more partners in their campaigns, including youth and the media.

“The younger generation does not understand the struggles of people with leprosy, especially the older generation. So we must find ways to interact with them, and make them aware,” Sasakawa told IPS.

“Designing educational programs is a good way to do this. Taking a human rights approach, and sharing your personal stories with young people can help. It is also important to engage with the media who can help shed light on the causes.”

All speakers and webinar participants agreed that the best way to achieve the goals of the Towards End Leprosy campaign is to strengthen their campaign by increasing its global visibility.

The observance of World Leprosy Day on January 30 provided an opportunity to make this happen, and the participants agreed to use it with renewed passion and a broader awareness plan.

“Interact with the media, take advantage of the radio networks in your country. COVID-19 exists, but we must continue our campaign,” Sasakawa advised.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo