Leprosy, a pandemic that was believed to have been stamped out in Malawi in 1970, has resurfaced in the country with one reported death and 24 on treatment. According to the local media, the disease has affected the eastern districts of Balaka and Zomba, the border districts of Phalombe and Nsanje in the south, and the lake shore district of Salima in the central region.
A 45-year-old man from Nsanje district but admitted to neighbouring Thyolo District Hospital reportedly died of the disease on October 27, according to a local paper, Nation on Sunday, dated November 1. Twenty-four other patients from Balaka, Zomba, Machinga, Phalombe and Salima are currently being treated at a missionary health centre in Balaka where there is also a special Leprosy Village, according to the district hospital’s spokesperson, Mercy Nyirenda.
While confirming the resurfacing of the pandemic, the country’s Ministry of Health acting spokesperson, Adrian Chikumbe, has attributed the increase of leprosy cases in the country to poor resource allocation towards fighting the disease despite its being declared stamped out years back.
“The ministry has been paying much attention and resources towards diseases such as malaria and cholera leaving out leprosy,” Chikumbe is quoted. He adds that organisations and donors supporting health delivery system in the country have also not been forthcoming to fund leprosy activities because they have their own interests.
Chikumbe further observes that the country’s surveillance system has not been up to date, so keeping track of leprosy cases has been a problem. According to the health ministry official, leprosy training is done in neighbouring Tanzania so most of Malawi’s new medic crop lacks expertise in leprosy diagnosis and treatment.
Leprosy, according to WHO, is caused by Mycobacterium leprae and affects the skin and nerves. The UN organisation targeted leprosy as one of the diseases to be eliminated from the world as a public health problem by reducing the prevalence to less than 1 case per 10 000 population based on the use of multi-drug therapy (MDT).
Although the disease was believed to have been generally stamped out in Malawi in 1970, the country only attained WHO leprosy elimination status in 1994. However, in 2010 the country registered a total of 632 leprosy cases out of 14 million people. The WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Yohei Sasakawa, visited Malawi in July 2011 to raise political and community awareness and commitment on leprosy.
Among other issues, the Goodwill Ambassador recommended the evaluation of the national leprosy programme which was conducted. — Xinhua.