By Asmau Ahmad
The National Coordinator, National Tuberculosis, Leprosy, and Buruli Ulcer Control Programme (NTBLCP), Dr Chukwuma Anyaike has said that Nigeria records not less than 2,500 new leprosy cases annually.
Anyaike expressed worries that most of the new leprosy cases were seen in children, urging stakeholders to pay more attention to the neglected tropical disease.
The public health physician noted that people affected by leprosy face a lot of challenges like stigma and discrimination, adding that this often leads to poverty, family rejection, and other issues.
The NTBLCP boss disclosed this during an exclusive interview with PUNCH HealthWise.
Anyaike said, “Nigeria records not less than 2,500 new leprosy cases annually. People think it is not here, but it is still here and affecting mostly children. How you know an infection is still present and actively spreading is when is affecting children.
“For a child to have leprosy means that it is a new and active infection going on. It is very common and transmitted the same way tuberculosis is transmitted or COVID -19 by droplets, in the air. The only thing is that it takes three to five years to manifest.
“It is attached with a lot of stigma and discrimination. It is because of the stigma that people tend to hide.”
Leprosy, according to experts, is a mildly infectious disease caused by a slow-multiplying bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae, with an incubation period of about five years. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear. The disease mainly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes.
Leprosy is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated cases. Untreated leprosy can lead to life-long disabilities affecting the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.
The public health physician said leprosy is one of the major neglected tropical diseases, warning that if left untreated, leprosy could cause irreversible damage to hands, feet, and eyes.
He noted that people with low immunity and who are not eating well were at risk of leprosy.
Anyaike said leprosy was still active and spreading in Nigeria as a result of neglect.
“20 years ago, we beat the global WHO target of elimination. But because of the neglect, probably, the changing of interest with a lot of funding going into HIV, malaria, and all that. Nobody remembered that there was a problem with leprosy and the thing started coming back again. We call them re-emerging tropical diseases,” he said.
The physician said people stigmatise those affected by leprosy because of misconceptions and a lack of awareness.
He noted, “People think leprosy is a punishment from God as a result of sin committed. Leprosy has a lot of social effects. If it is not treated, it comes with a lot of disfiguring. It starts eating your fingers and your toes. Those places will not grow again even if you cure them. The disfiguring caused by leprosy is alarming.”
According to him, treatments are free and available, he called on those affected to stop being ashamed and seek appropriate treatment.
He urged stakeholders to do everything possible to cater to infected individuals in society and tackle the spread of the infection.