Friday 21st July, 2017
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The spread of leprosy in Nigeria

The spread of leprosy in Nigeria

During this year’s World Leprosy Day activities in Nigeria, the World Health Organisation’s Glob­al Health Observatory Data re­pository indicated that Nige­ria ranks third among African countries with the highest bur­den of leprosy just behind the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia. Of the 212,000 per­sons affected by leprosy in 2015 worldwide, Nigeria had a total of 2,892, with the country recording a total of 43,179 cases in the last ten years. The report further in­dicated that globally, India leads with the highest number of lep­rosy cases followed by Brazil and Indonesia.
A further breakdown of the leprosy cases in Nigeria shows that, according to the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Ade­wole, the disease still poses a challenge in sixteen states which include Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Bauchi, Taraba, Niger, Kogi, Ebonyi, Abia, Cross River, Edo, Ogun and Lagos. This ugly development is, indeed, worri­some and poses danger to pub­lic health, as the disease is conta­gious as the germs can be passed through contacts.
Characteristically, leprosy, os­tensibly the oldest disease in the world, is caused by a type of bac­teria called mycobacterium lep­rae which has an incubation pe­riod of about five years while the symptoms can take as many as twenty years to appear on any part the skin and the peripheral nerves of the body. As one of the oldest diseases known to man­kind, leprosy has been associat­ed with such negative thoughts as many people say it is a punish­ment from God, a curse from the spirits, a hereditary disease, while many others trace it to one myth­ical or super-natural body or the other, while the rest say it runs in families as a result of one curse or the other from their fore-fathers. Whatever is the case, leprosy has been known to afflict peoples of the world and has been present in all the continents inhabited by mankind - it is a disease that can cause deformities in the extrem­ities of the body such as the toes and the fingers, and can also af­fect some species of monkeys.
In the past, leprosy control measures attracted much at­tention from the various gov­ernments of the world. In Ni­geria, the federal, regional, state and local governments did all to control the spread of the dis­ease in our midst, and even went ahead to establish special centres for treating those who suffered it. In doing that, health person­nel were regularly recruited and trained in the control of Hense­niasis, another name for lepro­sy, with well-functioning lepro­sy control units established in all health centers where the diagno­sis and treatment of the disease took place. Many religious or­ganisations also participated in the effort to control the spread of leprosy, one of them being the Methodist Church that had es­tablished the Leprosy Referral and Treatment Centre at Uzua­koli that still situates in the town till today.
With the combined effort of the government, the churches and the health personnel, lepro­sy cases were effectively handled in our midst then that the cas­es began to reduce as treatments were given as determined and prescribed by the World Health Organisation from time to time. With the introduction of the Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) by the World Health Organisation in the 1990’s, leprosy spread was re­duced drastically in Nigeria, and in 1998, the country had achieved the World Health Organisation’s elimination target of less than one case in every ten thousand popu­lation. However, as time passed, things began to fall nationwide in the control of leprosy and tuber­culosis diseases, and have reached a crisis point in many states of the federation today, hence the result­ant increase in the cases of lepro­sy in the country as confirmed by World Health Organisation.
Akoma writes from Isimkpu, Arochukwu, Abia State.
 

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