The road to visit leprosy patients in the Philippines can be arduous.

The road to visit leprosy patients in the Philippines can be arduous.

As the last Sunday of the first month of 2017 arrives, World Leprosy Day serves as a reminder that this ‘ancient’ disease still exists. By the conventional measurements used by global health experts and policy makers, leprosy is now statistically much less of a burden.

Indeed, in my lifetime, massive advances have been made to ‘eliminate’ leprosy with approximately 200,000 new cases diagnosed and reported each year. Thankfully the advanced cases that once used to be common are now seen much less regularly.

Using IDRI's leprosy diagnostic, a person can be tested at home, even in a remote area.

Using IDRI’s leprosy diagnostic, a person can be tested at home, even in a remote area.

Elimination has not yet been achieved, however, and a great many people are still affected by this disease. I remain extremely privileged to have active and productive collaborations all over the world sharing in IDRI’s goal of advancing a vaccine and diagnostic tools for leprosy.

I am fortunate to be able to visit with patients and their families. These visits are a continual reminder that the numbers mask the human element – it is impossible to accurately encapsulate the impact that leprosy can have on the extended family. A patient (and their family) having to travel to the clinic by taking a 3-4 hour bus ride at 2 a.m. impacts more than that day. A patient missing work leads to many hungry stomachs that day.

Great strides have been made. But the final steps remain to be taken.