PH urged to make leprosy history
MANILA, Philippines—While leprosy is no longer a public health threat in the country, more than 1,000 Filipinos still get infected with the disease every year, a Department of Health (DOH) official said on Thursday.
Dr. Francesca Gajete, National Leprosy Control Program manager, said there were 2,012 leprosy cases reported last year in Ilocos Sur, Metro Manila, Cebu, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. From January this year, 800 new cases have been reported.
Gajete urged Filipinos who suspect they have been infected with the chronic bacterial disease to immediately contact a government health worker or hospital.
“You don’t need to go to a sanitarium. You can be treated as an out-patient. The medicine is free and after just a day of treatment, you are no longer infectious,” Gajete said in a press conference in Manila.
She pointed out that leprosy can be cured after a six- to 12-month treatment.
Gajete said leprosy was “eliminated” as a public health problem in 1998 after the Philippines achieved its target of having less than one case per 10,000 population. The country had up to 38,200 persons with leprosy in the 1980s.
“Leprosy has been eliminated as a health problem but elimination does not mean new cases will not come up,” said Arturo Cunanan, head of the sanitarium in Culion, Palawan, which no longer has leprosy patients.
“It is a curable disease and the drugs are free and available at the nearest center. So, stigma has no place here as patients need not hide,” he added.
Former Health Secretary Alberto Romualdez said it was easy to cure leprosy before because those infected sought treatment in sanitariums.
“Now, it’s more difficult because they no longer need to be confined. They are now in their communities but do not want to come out. That’s a complication and we should focus on that,” said Romualdez, who heads the Culion Foundation Inc., which supports approaches on the prevention of control of selected communicable and infectious diseases.
“People are encouraged to seek help and not to be ashamed because they can be treated. Leprosy is no longer a disease that is incurable. We hope to cure it before it becomes serious,” he added.
He said there was a need for early detection because most of the new patients who seek help from the DOH are already in the advanced stage of the disease.
To help get rid of the stigma associated with leprosy, a group called the Coalition of Leprosy Advocates of the Philippines composed of persons who were cured of leprosy was launched Thursday.
“In the whole Western Pacific Region, the Philippines is the one that consistently reports more than 1,000 new cases but this is also because our health workers and partners—like medical centers and dermatologists—do excellent reporting,” Gajete said.
She said leprosy’s incubation period lasts three to five years and the symptoms could appear 10 to 15 years after infection. Gajete said the symptoms include pale or reddish skin patches that are neither itchy nor painful.
“We have sustained our elimination levels of less than one case per 10,000 population in 1998. Our target is to control leprosy before it becomes a public health threat,” Gajete said.
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