Subject: Worldwide Leprosy Elimination Hinges on Brazil, Nepal, Timor

By Jason Gale

Worldwide Leprosy Elimination Hinges on Brazil, Nepal, Timor

Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Global eradication of leprosy hinges on Brazil, Nepal and East Timor, the only nations still threatened by the disfiguring disease that's plagued humanity for centuries.

Prevalence in the three countries is more than one case per 10,000 people -- the level above which leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, poses a public health threat -- the World Health Organization in Geneva said in a report yesterday. Globally, new cases fell 4.2 percent to 254,525 last year.

Thirteen years after the WHO began providing a free cocktail of antibiotics to leprosy patients, the number of infections worldwide has plunged by more than two-thirds and at least 14 million people have been cured of an illness that damages skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Still, about 100 million patients and family members suffer stigma and social discrimination associated with the disease.

"In spite of the successes achieved, maintaining political interest and mobilizing the necessary funds to implement activities in the field are challenges for many national programs as the burden of disease declines further,'' the United Nations health agency said in the Weekly Epidemiological Record, a public health bulletin.

Brazil, Nepal and East Timor accounted for about 17 percent of new cases last year and almost a quarter of the new infections reported at the start of 2008, according to the bulletin. The prevalence of leprosy per 10,000 people is 2.4 in Brazil, 1.18 in Nepal and 1.23 in East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste.

"Efforts in these countries will continue to be strengthened in order to help them achieve the elimination goal in the next few years,'' the WHO said.

Considered by the WHO to be "not highly infectious,'' leprosy is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated cases, the agency says.

The disease, recognized in the ancient civilizations of China, Egypt and India, is cured by so-called multidrug therapy that kills the Mycobacterium leprae bacterium without inducing resistance.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Gale in Singapore at

Back to August Menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu