A total of 221 new cases of leprosy were recorded across the country by end of September last year, of which seven, were children.
According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), in the last five years, the country has detected at least 200 new cases of leprosy annually, indicating an ongoing transmission of the causative agent of the disease among the population.
“We get new cases, we treat and then the following year, we get new ones, we treat and the cycle continues which tells you that the bacteria is in circulation and everyone is at risk.
As a Service, we are revising our strategy from not only treating cases but to detect them early and aggressively pursue their contacts to give them prophylaxis; a single-dose drug called rifampicin which has about 60 per cent effectiveness against leprosy, to break the chain of transmission,” Programme Manager of the National Leprosy Control Programme, Dr Benedict Okoe Quao, disclosed in an interview with the Ghanaian Times yesterday ahead of World Leprosy Day (WLD).
He said, all 16 regions of Ghana were endemic for leprosy although the Upper East and Upper West regions, recorded the highest number of cases each year.
Dr Quao said, the long incubation period for leprosy; from two to 20 years, made it possible for one to have the infection and not know until lesions and patches begin developing on the skin.
However, he said, once people reported immediately to the health facility any anomaly on the skin, early diagnosis could be made and one could be treated and cured of leprosy within six months or up to a year.
“The disease starts on the skin; usually 99 per cent of cases. You will see light-coloured or red patch like a ring worm on the skin, if you have pale or reddish patches or anything lighter than the colour of your skin, itchiness of a lesion but you have no sensation in it, numbness of hand or feet, weakness of hands, eyelids and toes, swellings, a wound but you can’t feel it, you could suspect leprosy.”
The Programme Manager noted that the clawed fingers or toes, deformity or disabilities often associated with persons diagnosed of leprosy occurs when the infection has reached an advanced stage.
“When we are able to diagnose early, we can treat and no one will know you ever had leprosy and that is what we are pushing for so that, people don’t end up with disability and not transmit the bacteria.”
“We are aiming that by the WHO 2030 target, we would have reduced child cases of leprosy by 90 per cent, reduce new cases by 70 per cent and have a 90 per cent reduction in people advancing to grade 2 disability by 2030,” he added.
While advising people to report immediately at the health facility any skin condition, Dr Quao entreated the public to desist from stigmatising and discriminating against persons diagnosed of leprosy.
“Let’s treat them with respect and dignity. Leprosy is not contagious, you don’t get it from touch or sharing objects. It is mainly through coming into contact with droplets from someone who has leprosy but has not been treated, either through cough, sneeze, talking etc.
People with deformities and the clawed fingers we point to as lepers are actually cured of the disease but the gentleman in suit sitting by you in the office, in the bus etc, who may have a patch under his shirt, coughing and singing loudly is where you can pick the infection from, you go into incubation and the disease manifests years later,” he stated.
The Programme Manager called for increased investment towards eliminating leprosy as a public health problem in Ghana adding that; “leprosy is treatable and curable.”
Observed every last Sunday in January to increase public awareness on leprosy and reduce its associated stigma, this year’s WLD is on the theme; “Act Now, End Leprosy.”
Leprosy also known as “Hansen’s Disease” is an infection caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium leprae mostly affecting the nerves, skin, eyes and lining of the nose.