'Leprosy treatment must be inclusive'

Treatment of leprosy has been clubbed with the general health care system to make it accessible and remove the stigma attached to the disease, the Centre told Supreme Court.

Rejecting the court’s suggestion to set up a specialised leprosy cure centre for medication follow ups, the Union Health Ministry said in an affidavit that the case detection was slow in the vertical system and accessibility to treatment was limited as the drug distribution points functioned only once in a fortnight.

“Initially there were cure centres for leprosy in identified areas. However, visit to those centres by the affected persons were resulting in the leprosy affected persons being identified in the society which could lead to stigma.

“Now, diagnosis and treatment for leprosy was integrated into general health care system, so that the treatment of leprosy patients is more accessible, and systematically followed up, and the social stigma is reduced considerably, which would in turn encourage and facilitates more leprosy patients to seek health care,” the Centre said..    

Complicated cases might still be referred to medical college hospitals, central leprosy institutes and NGO institutions empanelled to treat complicated and those difficult diagnose, the ministry said.

Hearing a PIL filed by Pankaj Sinha, the court has on January 13 said, “It is advisable if the Union of India and states can think of having specialised leprosy care centre where medication follow up and other treatment protocols are followed in proper perspective so that the stigmatic disease is eradicated and reduced to significant percentage.”

Just a solitary medical officer with four supervisors and 20 paramedical workers covered 4.5 lakh rural population under the vertical system. Case detections where therefore done through such surveys only.

With the integrated system, patients could visit any health centre where treatment facilities and medicines are available all the time, the ministry said.
With India having 58 per cent of the world’s leprosy population, the largest, the panel asked to eliminate discrimination and end social stigma.

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