Maputo — There has been an increase in the number of cases of leprosy diagnosed in Mozambique according to figures released by the Ministry of Health (MISAU).
Speaking at a meeting in Maputo on Sunday to mark World Leprosy Day, the National Director of the Ministry's programme to combat leprosy, Francisco Guilengue, explained that the increase is due to the campaign actively seeking out people with the disease.
Over the past three years, the Ministry and its partners have strengthened the leprosy control programme, resulting in the diagnosis of 2,500 cases last year. This represents a 29.7 per cent increase over the previous year when 1,928 cases were diagnosed.
According to Guilengue, "we reduced the rate of infection and prevalence, but by 2013 we still had pockets of leprosy in about 20 districts that still had a high prevalence".
In 2008, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared leprosy defeated in Mozambique. This did not mean that every last case had been eliminated, but that the disease was no longer a public health concern.
Guilengue lamented that since then support from partners has reduced. He explained that after 2008 "we were among a group of 17 countries where reported cases were between 1,000 and 1,200 diagnoses per year up until 2013".
However, the number of cases of leprosy diagnosed has increased due to the proactive local campaigns of the Ministry of Health and its partners from non-governmental organisations and civil society. Guilengue pointed out that in 2015 about 1,500 cases were diagnosed, and this increased to 1,800 in 2016.
The Deputy Minister of Health, Joao Leopoldo da Costa, who led the ceremony to mark the occasion in Sussundenga, in the central province of Manica, appealed for continued action to eliminate the disease. He pointed out that World Leprosy Day is when people across the world pause to think about the victims of the disease and the actions that can be taken to combat it.
In the neighbouring province of Tete 40 cases of leprosy were diagnosed last year, which is a 256 per cent increase on the 14 cases diagnosed in 2017. The greatest number of cases was found in the district of Doa, followed by the districts of Magoa, Marara, Mutarara, Moatize, and Macanga. As a result, according to figures released by the provincial health directorate, 104 patients are receiving treatment for leprosy in health units.
The Permanent Secretary of the Tete Provincial Government, Lina Portugal, stressed that it is the responsibility of each citizen to participate actively in the awareness campaigns to eliminate the disease. She pointed out that everyone is responsible for their own body because the disease does not choose its victim and can affect any individual regardless of social status or where they live.
There have been significant advances in combatting the disease. Up until 2000, Mozambique was one of the six countries in the world most affected by leprosy (the others were Brazil, India, Madagascar, Tanzania and Nepal). These six countries accounted for about 90 per cent of the leprosy cases in the world. But, by 2008 the fight against the disease had succeeded in bringing the prevalence of the disease down to less than one in 10,000 inhabitants, the level at which the WHO considers the disease no longer a public health problem.
Diagnosis is simple, and anyone with a clear, painless patch on his or her skin should go to the nearest health unit, where an examination will check whether it is leprosy. Treatment is free of charge and takes between six and 12 months on an out-patient basis. Patients will only require hospitalisation if they have left diagnosis late, and are suffering from complications, the most common of which are mutilations to the extremities, such as fingers and toes.
Worldwide, about 210,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.