Guyanese are being urged to move away from stigma and discrimination of persons living with Leprosy and their families even as the country observes World Leprosy Day 2017.
World Leprosy Day is observed on January 30 or the Sunday closest to that day. In Guyana a month of activities are planned to raise awareness and promote tolerance among citizens.
These activities kick-started today (Sunday, January 29, 2017) with a simple ceremony hosted at the Palms Geriatric Home and attended by Minister within the Ministry of Health, Dr Karen Cummings, PAHO/WHO Country Representative, Dr William Adu-Krow, other ministry officials and staff of the Leprosy Programme.
This year World Leprosy day much like last year focuses on reducing the number of Child-Leprosy and related disabilities down to zero.
Last year, 52 persons including six children were diagnosed with Leprosy in Guyana and received treatment. This means that the disease is not considered to be endemic in Guyana. According to WHO (World Health Organisation) the goal is to keep the disease under the 1:10,000 population in order to maintain this status.
Minister Cummings says in Guyana much work has been done to reduce prevalence. “The incidence of Leprosy for 2016 in Guyana stands at 6.9 per hundred thousand population with the overall prevalence of 26.5 per hundred thousand population.” Region two recorded the highest prevalence.
However, she notes that despite these efforts stigma and discrimination continues to be a major issue. She is now calling on all Guyanese to be responsible citizens and “do what we can to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with Leprosy” which has in many cases caused the disease to go untreated.
Leprosy is curable and in Guyana the treatment is free but what the Ministry has found is that many persons remain untreated because society has shunned them.
To remedy this, Dr William Adu-Krow has outlined a menu of steps that could be taken locally or wherever the disease is present because he says any issue with stigma and discrimination should be tackled head on.
“Health authorities need to reach out to and include Leprosy affected persons and communities in their programming, laws or regulations that support discrimination against persons suffering Leprosy should be repealed. Voices should be mobilized to counter harmful social attitudes” he said.
In addition, he believes “non-government and civil society organizations should be included in campaigns to challenge leprosy related stigma and to address discrimination against affected persons and their family members.”
Public education on the signs and symptoms will also help to improve public response to the disease.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention defines Leprosy or Hansen’s Disease as “an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa). With early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be cured. People with Hansen’s disease can continue to work and lead an active life during and after treatment.
Leprosy was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease, but now we know it doesn’t spread easily and treatment is very effective. However, if left untreated, the nerve damage can result in crippling of hands and feet, paralysis, and blindness.”