Malcolm Duthie, right, visits a home in the Philippines, where leprosy still remains a problem, particularly for younger people.
As we near the end of the first month of 2016, it’s hard to believe that a disease first mentioned in written records in 600 BC still exists in today’s world. But the reality is leprosy is still here – found in more than 100 countries around the world. According to our colleagues at the American Leprosy Missions, 52 children around the world are diagnosed with leprosy … every day. And we know that many more will remain undiagnosed due to stigma, fear and lack of medical expertise.
IDRI leprosy diagnostics
These statistics are even harder to digest when we note that leprosy was targeted for elimination by the early 2000s. According to case reports, that goal was achieved. Yet news stories about leprosy still abound. In fact, leprosy cases spiked in the U.S. in 2015, nearly tripling in the state of Florida. Several states in India today are reporting levels above the national elimination threshold, indicating either a resurgence of the disease has occurred or that it was never really gone in the first place.
From visits to the Philippines, where IDRI collaborates with partners in Cebu, I know the effects of leprosy firsthand. I see young patients – teenagers or people in their early 20s — living in poor conditions in close proximity to one another, often in families of 10 or more. The potential for new cases or resurgence in this setting is striking.
As we observe World Leprosy Day on Sunday, Jan. 31, we, at IDRI, along with our collaborators around the world, are working diligently on new solutions. By combining currently available leprosy drugs with the diagnostics and vaccine we are developing, we will finally have all the tools necessary to bring an end to this biblical era disease.