Leprosy or Hansen’s disease is a chronic disease transmitted by the bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. Over 213,000 people mostly in Africa and Asia are infected, and approximately 249,000 fresh cases were reported in 2008. Leprosy is mainly a disease of the soft tissues of the upper respiratory tract and peripheral nerves. Its primary symptoms are skin lesions that can be disfiguring. It is not highly contagious and is spread through droplets from the nose and mouth of an infected person, during frequent and close contact.
Fortunately, leprosy is curable and disability can be avoided if treatment is begun in the early stages of the disease. The standard treatment is multi-drug therapy- a treatment that the UNHCO as been providing free of charge since 1995 to all patients worldwide. The greatest challenge today is to reach and treat those in remote areas, people who tend to be the poorest of the poor. Another challenge is overcoming the frequent stigma attached to such a feared disease that prevents some from coming forward for treatment.
Although in recent years cases of leprosy have been sharply declining worldwide, the disease still remains endemic in some regions, mostly parts of Africa, and the countries of India and Brazil.
Annual global detection of leprosy has been in a decline since 2001. Africa reported a decline of 8.7% in new cases compared with 2004. The number for the Americas was a decline of 20.1%, 32% for Southeast Asia, and 7.6% for the Eastern Mediterranean. The Western Pacific region, however, had a 14.8% increase over the same period.