Significant increase in leprosy in Namibia

MASHARE: Preliminary reports from the Ministry of Health and Social Services show that the number of leprosy cases in the country has increased significantly – from six new cases recorded in 2012 to 21 last year.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacteria or germs. It affects the skin and nerves of infected individuals.

Namibia on Wednesday joined the rest of the world in observing World Leprosy Day, which is this year held under the theme ‘Life in all its fullness’.

This year’s main event, which was addressed by Health and Social Services Deputy Minister Petrina Haingura, took place at Muroro village in the Kavango East Region’s Mashare Constituency.

The Health Deputy Minister said leprosy is one of the more neglected diseases not only in Africa, but in the world.

She said her ministry previously recorded low numbers of cases, with five cases reported in 2011 and six recorded in 2012.

The Deputy Minister indicated that in 2013, this figure skyrocketed to 21 cases, with the Otjozondjupa, Ohangwena and Zambezi regions each recording three cases, while the two Kavango regions and the Oshana Region recorded four and eight cases respectively.

Haingura noted that the ministry has improved its capacity to detect and diagnose the disease as a direct result of the development and dissemination of relevant guidelines and associated training.

She stressed that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that patients affected by leprosy are provided with support to enable them to live productive lives.

“We have taken the first steps in fighting this neglected disease and we need to move onto providing opportunities to enhance the lives of these brothers and sisters whose lives have been disadvantaged by the disease,” the Health Deputy Minister said.

Haingura then reminded all Namibians of the need to continue promoting healthy lifestyles in all circles of life, cautioning that the recent outbreak of cholera in the Kunene Region is a sign of what can happen when people relax their disease prevention and control methods.

World Leprosy Day has been commemorated for 60 years annually, and the day is meant to draw attention to the plight of the three million people across the world who suffer from isolation, discrimination and poverty due to the disease.

According to Haingura, Namibia has made great strides in responding to the disease and last year, the ministry launched National Guidelines for the management of leprosy, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) also continues to support the country with medicine to treat the disease at no cost.