The National Tuberculosis, Leprosy and Buruli Ulcer Control Programme (NTBLCP) says leprosy is best understood as a conjoined disease that is curable.
The National Coordinator of the program, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Abuja, in commemoration of the 2023 World Leprosy Day (WLD)
NAN reports that WLD is annually observed every last Sunday of January to create awareness about the disease.
The day has “Act Now, End Leprosy” as the theme for 2023.
NAN reports that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the disease predominantly affects the skin and peripheral nerves and if left untreated, the disease may cause progressive and permanent disabilities.
According to Anyaike, the second is a peripheral neuropathy that is initiated by the infection and its accompanying immunologic events.
He said that multidrug regimens are now used worldwide to treat the infection, as antibiotics could kill the bacteria that cause leprosy.
He, however, noted that while the treatment could cure the disease and prevent it from getting worse, it does not reverse nerve damage nor physical disfiguration that may have occurred before diagnosis.
Anyaike stressed that it is critical that the disease be diagnosed as early as possible, before any permanent nerve damage occurs.
He added that “if left untreated, the nerve damage can result in paralysis and crippling of hands and feet. In very advanced cases, the person may have multiple injuries due to lack of sensation and eventually, the body may reabsorb the affected digits over time, resulting in the apparent loss of toes and fingers.
“Corneal ulcers or blindness can also occur if facial nerves are affected due to loss of sensation of the cornea (outside of the eye).
“Other signs of advanced leprosy may include loss of eyebrows and saddle-nose deformity, resulting from damage to the nasal septum.
“You can catch it only if you come into close and repeated contact with nose and mouth droplets from someone with untreated leprosy.”
According to him, unlike tuberculosis, leprosy has not been observed to be more frequent in patients infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in places where both diseases are endemic.
He also said that “leprosy is often stigmatised because of the notion that the person affected has committed a sin or broken a taboo, either in this or a previous life.
“The stigma may also be due to fear of the disfigurement it causes.”
He explained that discrimination against persons afflicted by leprosy and their families remained a major challenge and called on Nigerians to erase the belief that the disease is contagious and hereditary, stressing that it is one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) caused by bacteria.
Anyaike said everyone has a role to invest to help achieve zero transmission by 2035, saying “let us promise to completely eradicate this disease from the planet as we commemorate 2023 World Leprosy Day.”
He urged the 36 states across the federation and the Federal Capital Territory to create awareness on leprosy and give necessary support to those affected.
“Leprosy is not caused by voodoo or witchcraft, it is time for every Nigerian, specifically state governments, non-government organisations and civil society organisations to rehabilitate individuals back into the society,” he called.