The Acting Programmes Manager of the National Leprosy Elimination Programme, Dr Benedict Okie Quao, has called for an end to discrimination and stigma against people affected by leprosy.
He said it was important to dispel the myth that leprosy was a curse resulting from sin, adding that leprosy could not be contracted through walking beside patients or shaking their hands.
“We cannot keep on adding to the pain of individuals of leprosy by continuing to shun them.
Aside the specific deformities and challenges they may have, they remain just like anyone else, capable of performing all human activities when appropriately rehabilitated and are not infectious when they have completed available treatment,” he said.
World Leprosy Day
Dr Quao was speaking at a durbar to mark the 2019 World Leprosy Day Celebration, which was on the theme: “Uniting To End Discrimination, Stigma And Prejudice” at the Ankaful Leprosy and General Hospital in Ankaful, near Cape Coast, last Sunday.
“Let us all desist from labelling individuals with residual deformities with various terms such as disabled or cured leper,” he urged.
Dr Quao said although leprosy had been eliminated as a public health problem in the country, there was a virtual possibility for its resurgence if efforts were not sustained to keep it at bay.
He said the National Leprosy Elimination Programme was working to ensure that the drugs to treat leprosy were readily available everywhere in the country so that the disease could be managed within communities to achieve cure and prevent disability.
He called for the resourcing of the National Referral Hospital in order to be better placed to support the prevention and management of disabilities in persons affected by leprosy.
Dr Quao underscored the need for people to seek prompt treatment for any kind of skin lesion rather than treat it with a variety of over the counter topical agents to prevent leprosy.
He said the leprosy disease started as a harmless looking skin patch which was often mistaken for other common skin conditions, therefore the need to seek proper diagnosis so the right treatment would be given.
The Regional Health Promotion Officer, Mr Matthew Okor Ahwireng, noted that there were a lot of unreported cases hiding in the communities which was constituting a threat to the elimination of the leprosy disease.
“Most unreported cases and refusal to seek early treatment are due to the fact that people with the disease are afraid of discrimination and stigmatisation,” he added.
Mr Ahwireng called on government, civil society organisations, the clergy, politicians and chiefs to get involved in the fight against discrimination and stigmatisation while providing care and support for affected people.
The Methodist Minister In-Charge at Kakumdo, Rev. Isaac Kwadwo Asante, urged Christians not to regard people with leprosy as outcasts but rather love and live cordially with them.
He said the real value of a person was inward and not only in outward appearances, therefore, people must understand that people with the disease were human and also had feelings.