The governments of countries where leprosy is still a health problem need to ensure their people understand that it is an easily curable disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said. Partners in WHO's Global Alliance for the Elimination of Leprosy are meeting in Brazil for their annual meeting. Brazil is one of six countries in the world where leprosy remains a major public health issue. The others are India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar and Nepal.
WHO has committed itself to eradicating leprosy by 2005, a goal that public health experts say is attainable. WHO director-general Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland said she was confident the target would be reached.
At the end of 2000, there were approximately 600,000 leprosy cases registered for treatment across the world, with almost two-thirds in India. A new combination of drugs known as multi-drug therapy can treat and cure leprosy. The drugs are distributed free to patients by WHO. Over the last decade 11 million people have been completely cured of the disease.
WHO says the challenge for countries where leprosy still exists is twofold. They must make it clear to the public that the disease can be cured, and they must ensure that diagnosis and treatment are available at all health centres.