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Key milestone reached in fight against leprosy, UN health agency reports

Key milestone reached in fight against leprosy, UN health agency reports

Multidrug leprosy treatment
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the attainment of a major target in the global fight against leprosy thanks to early diagnosis and free treatment in communities at risk.

The goal of decreasing the level of leprosy in the world by over 90 per cent -- set by WHO Member States in 1991 -- has now been accomplished, the agency said.

WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland hailed the attainment of this milestone in the fight against leprosy. "Together, we can take pride in this victory in reducing to very low levels one of the most dreadful diseases to have ever afflicted mankind," she said. "Today, no one should have to suffer the stigma, deformity and disability wrought by this curable disease."

WHO noted, however, that the success at the global level must now be reproduced in the handful of countries that still need to further reduce the prevalence of leprosy. Full control of leprosy has eluded mainly six countries -- Brazil, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar and Nepal -- but WHO noted that they are all committed to stepping up leprosy control activities.

"The main priority now is to urgently improve access to multidrug therapy for communities that we haven't been able to reach before, because of poor coverage of leprosy services, lack of infrastructure, isolation or war," said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department of Communicable Disease Control, Prevention and Eradication.

Treatment with multidrug therapy is highly effective, stopping transmission of the disease and preventing disabilities. Over the past 15 years, about 11 million leprosy patients have been cured with multidrug therapy, which consists of three medicines which need to be taken by the patient for 6 or 12 months, depending on the severity of the disease.