Today, the diagnosis and treatment of leprosy is easy and most endemic countries are striving to fully integrate leprosy services into existing general health services. This is especially important for those under-served and marginalised communities most at risk from leprosy, often the poorest of the poor.
Access to information, diagnosis and treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT) remain key elements in the strategy to eliminate the disease as a public health problem, defined as reaching a prevalence of less than 1 leprosy case per 10,000 population. Only a couple of endemic countries have still to achieve this goal at the national level; most are now applying the same elimination strategy at regional, district and sub-district levels. MDT treatment has been made available by WHO free of charge to all patients worldwide since 1995, and provides a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy.
According to official reports received from 103 countries and territories, the global registered prevalence of leprosy at the end of the first quarter of 2014 stood at 180,464 cases, while the number of new cases detected during 2013 was 215,557 (excluding the small number of cases in Europe).
Most countries that were previously highly endemic for leprosy have achieved elimination at the national level and are intensifying their efforts at regional and district levels. During 2007, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique reached elimination at the national level, and were joined by Timor-Leste by the end of 2010. However, pockets of high endemicity still remain in some foci in Angola, Brazil, the Central African Republic, India, Madagascar, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania and in previously highly endemic countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. These countries remain highly committed to eliminating the disease, and continue to intensify their leprosy control activities.
Information campaigns about leprosy in high risk areas are crucial so that patients and their families, who were historically ostracized from their communities, are encouraged to come forward and receive treatment. The most effective way of preventing disabilities in leprosy, as well as preventing further transmission of the disease, lies in early diagnosis and treatment with MDT.