Migrants a major chunk of leprosy cases in City

The word ‘elimination’ used by the WHO is being mistaken by many for eradication. Elimination is a technical term which only means there is less than one case per 10,000 population.

India still has 60 per cent of the world’s leprosy cases. This apart, there are thousands who are being treated for deformities and ulcers that need lifelong care. The prevalence rate of leprosy cases must be less than one per 10,000 people. As of 2011-2012, the rate stands at 0.45 per 10,000 people.

Karnataka reported more than 31,000 cases in 1988-89, which was reduced to less than 10,000 in 2004-05 when only 7,815 fresh cases were reported. Subsequently, over 3,718 cases have been reported this year with a maximum of 431 cases in Bangalore Urban alone, followed by 321 in Bellary, 266 in Davangere, 229 in Raichur, 214 in Dharwad, 129 in Gulbarga and 127 in Chamarajanagar district.

Leprosy patients are usually diagnosed with a ‘copper-coloured patch on the skin with definite loss of sensation’ wherein paucibacillary (PB) cases are identified with less than five patches, and multibacillary (MB) cases with more than five patches on the skin.
Multi-drug therapy (MDT) treatment was introduced in the early 1980s to diagnose and treat leprosy successfully within the community.

The lone government hospital treating leprosy patients in Karnataka is located on Magadi Road in Bangalore, which receives at least 10-15 fresh cases every month, most of whom are migrants. Dr B C Venu, administrative medical officer at the hospital, says that most of their patients are from Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal who work as labourers for the Metro and other infrastructure projects. “We still receive fresh cases and most of the patients are migrants who do not continue their treatment. They give vague addresses of their sheds and we do not have a strong follow-up system to check on these patients,” he said.

He says the awareness about leprosy among the public, especially in rural areas, is still very low. The Health department can easily incorporate leprosy awareness in their various other campaigns. Asha workers who visit houses spreading awareness about polio and mother-child care can also check on leprosy cases in rural areas, he says.

Dr Venu said that even today they receive leprosy cases from North Karnataka districts, including Gulbarga, Raichur, Koppal, Bijapur and Bagalkot. There are also many cases from Chikkaballapur, Kolar and Davangere. According to the hospital statistics, over 160 fresh cases were diagnosed in 2009, around 135 cases in 2010, and 132 fresh cases in 2011. This year since January, 93 fresh cases have been detected. The hospital currently has over 100 patients with nearly 40 patients availing treatment for many years.

Leprosy patients’ colony

Ever since Independence, leprosy patients from different parts of the State have been coming to Bangalore for treatment. Due to prolonged hospitalisation, patients, including their families, started living in makeshift sheds close to the hospital. A huge rock located behind the leprosy hospital on Magadi Road became a residential colony for the patients’ families and they continue to live there. It is now called a ‘mini colony’ or ‘bande mele’.

No title deeds

Over 100 families have constructed houses in the mini colony and have been residing there for 40 years. Although there are problems related to water and toilet facilities, these families have been living with a great sense of insecurity ever since huge apartment complexes started coming up behind their colony along with the Metro line on Magadi Road. With no ‘hakku patra’ in their possession, they now fear they will be thrown out of their homes anytime.

Chandrappa, one of the residents, came to Bangalore 37 years ago from Davangere for leprosy treatment. He, along with his wife, have been living in the mini colony in a house of their own. “We have been hearing about ministers and MLAs giving ‘hakku patras’ to people living in slums which came up a few years ago. We have been living here for the past 40 years, but we are still not sure if the place belongs to us,” he says.

C Lalappa, leader of these residents’ association, says that many leaders have visited the mini colony, but they have only given them assurances of a ‘hakku patra’. “The government is issuing ‘hakku patra’ to so many residents in the City, but for no reason they are ignoring our pleas,” he said.

Most of the leprosy-affected people in the colony have died, but their children are working either as helps in the hospital, or as group ‘D’ workers in government departments.

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