New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee Saturday called for integrated leprosy services in geographically focused areas to eradicate the disease while Vice President Hamid Ansari urged for generating awareness to dispel misconceptions about it.

They were speaking at the Rashtrapati Bhawan where Mukherjee presented the International Gandhi Award for 2013 to Vijaykumar Vinayak Dongre and Zhang Guocheng from China for making outstanding contributions in the field of leprosy.

“In 2012-13, India recorded 83,000 leprosy cases with a prevalence of 0.68 per 10,000 population. I am happy to note that till April 1, 2012, 33 states and union territories had attained the elimination level of less than one case per 10,000 population. Moreover, 542 districts of the total 640 in the country had also achieved elimination by March 2012,” said Mukherjee.

“However, new cases continue to occur and high-burden pockets do exist. Chhattisgarh and the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli still have a prevalence rate between two and four per 10,000 population.”

“Bihar, Maharashtra and West Bengal, which achieved elimination earlier, have now shown a slight increase in its prevalence in the current year. I understand that 209 high-endemic districts have been identified in 2012-13, which need our attention,” the president said.

“Each year, about 250,000 new leprosy cases are detected, almost 60 percent of which are in India. The major challenge in leprosy-control activities lies in sustaining the same level of focus and commitment, especially in low-resource settings where equity of access is an issue.”

Mukherjee said it is required to intensify efforts towards early detection of cases, provide equitable access to appropriate treatment and integrated services in geographically focused areas.

The president also said the social stigma attached to the disease is of greater concern than the medical condition, and the socially discriminated need to be empowered through advocacy and information dissemination.

Noting the United Nations has now passed a resolution on discrimination against people affected by leprosy, he said efforts are on to repeal laws that prevent people affected by it from participating in society.

In his address, Ansari urged for generating awareness about misconceptions.

“The physical pain inflicted upon the victims of leprosy is compounded by the social stigma attached to it, which leads to social exclusion, psychological distress and economic hardship. The disease affects the poor more because of their social and economic vulnerability,” he said.

Calling for an increased empowerment of affected people, Ansari said: “The focus has to be on the under-served population and inaccessible areas to improve access and coverage of treatment. We should concentrate on innovative solutions to reducing the leprosy burden. This needs to be accompanied by a reduction, if not elimination, of the socio-economic challenges related to the disease.”

Zhang said: “Health is a pre-requisite for human survival and development. It is the basic goal of the human beings. With all colleagues in the world, leprosy workers in China will continue working for common goal of eliminating the disease globally as early as possible, building better living conditions, and promoting progress of human civilisation.”

“This award,” he said, “belongs to leprosy workers in China, India and the world, and to people in pursuit of truth, love and peace, like Mahatma Gandhi.”

Dongre said health education is the most important aspect of eradication and to remove misconception about the disease.

It is because of lack of education that a patient hides it in the initial stage that results in deformities, which is the reason behind the stigma.

Source: IANS