Colchester, United Kingdom, 31 January, 2018 – Lepra, a UK-based specialist leprosy charity, has warned that failure to include leprosy in a new government funding programme will hinder the fight to beat this disease, allowing it to continue to affect the lives of millions of vulnerable people across the globe.
At an event held last night (30 January 2018) at the House of Lords, London, UK, and hosted by Lord Gadhia, Lepra urged the UK government to open the new Accelerating Sustainable Control and Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (ASCEND) funding call to include leprosy and, in particular, leprosy in India, which carries 63% of the leprosy burden.
The meeting, held in support of World Leprosy Day, attracted a diverse and multicultural audience that included senior parliamentarians, leaders from major faith groups, government officials, and aid and health experts. Many attendees expressed their surprise that although there is a cure for leprosy, it remains a major health issue in many developing countries, highlighting the lack of awareness that is common across much of the UK.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), >200,000 new cases of leprosy are detected and diagnosed each year. Survey and research data also show that >7 million people are currently affected by leprosy worldwide. Of these, 4 million have developed life-changing disabilities as a result of delayed treatment, while >3 million cases remain undiagnosed. Moreover, reported cases in India are at a 10-year high. The cure for leprosy is multidrug therapy, which is administered free of charge to leprosy patients in all endemic countries.
Lord Gadhia commented: “It is shocking that leprosy still exists today, despite the fact it is curable. Last year, India recorded over 135,000 leprosy cases; the country’s highest recorded figure in 10 years and representing over 60% of globally recorded new cases. These figures show that leprosy is gaining momentum.”
He added: “Social stigma is a major barrier which prevents people coming forward for treatment. In our fight to beat this disease, it is critical we raise awareness of leprosy in communities both in the UK, and across the globe, to help reduce this stigma, promote early treatment, and transform lives.”
Geoff Prescott, Chief Executive at Lepra, commented: “Leprosy is an avoidable, tragic disease which affects millions of people in the developing world, yet it has been largely forgotten by the UK. It was wonderful to bring so many different communities together at the House of Lords to help bring this disease, and the people it affects, to the forefront of the national consciousness and in front of the UK government.”
He added: “In order to achieve the sustainable development goals and ensure we ‘leave no one behind’, leprosy has to be included in future funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) in full. Without a unified approach from governments, non-governmental organisations, the health sector, and communities, leprosy will remain one of the most neglected of neglected tropical diseases.”
The Colchester-based specialist charity invited attendees to join their campaign to urge members of parliament to push leprosy up the agenda and ensure it is included in all future neglected tropical disease funding.