Leprosy--evolution of the path to eradication.Indian J Med Res 2013; 137(1):15-35IJ
Leprosy is among the world's oldest and most dreaded diseases and it has been synonymous with stigma and discrimination due to the hideous deformities it produced, mystery around its aetiology and transmission and lack of any effective remedy till recently. Leprosy control started with the use of chaulmoogra oil and for the last three decades, multi drug therapy (MDT) has been our main tool against leprosy. In the last two decades, the reported global prevalence of active leprosy infection has dropped by almost 90 per cent by the combined efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO), local governments, health professionals, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), however, a parallel drop in the incidence or new case detection rate (NCDR) has not occurred. From 1994 through 2011, more than 100,000 new cases are being detected annually, of whom maximum case load is from India. There is need for research on tools for early diagnosis, short and effective treatment, and prevention of deformities and disabilities. Evaluating the role of immunotherapy and immunoprophylaxis will also lead us to better understanding of their mode of action. Further molecular analysis of Mycobacterium leprae genome may provide the requisite basis for all this. The current reality is that there is a need to sustain and provide quality leprosy services to all persons through general health services, including good referral system. All these provisions in the integrated health care approach will go a long way in further reducing the stigma. Efforts need to be made to reduce deformity through early detection, self care, physiotherapy and reconstructive surgery and developing sound surveillance systems. With all the remarkable achievements in the fight against leprosy, the stage is now set for the final assault. It is hoped that with the efforts of all the stake holders and strong political will, the disease will be eradicated in the near future.