January is leprosy awareness month

Still the target of a lot of prejudice, leprosy is curable . The January Purple is the month of alert to raise awareness about the chronic infectious disease, as it is always the last Sunday of the month when the World Day to Combat and Prevent Leprosy is celebrated.

This year, the campaign is called “We need to talk about leprosy” and aims to draw people's attention to the treatment, offered free of charge by the Unified Health System (SUS). The day is celebrated this year on January 30th.

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Leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium Leprae, also known as Hansen's bacillus, which reproduces slowly and the average period of incubation and appearance of signs of the disease is approximately five years. The name is a tribute to Gerhard Hansen, the Norwegian physician and bacteriologist who discovered the disease in 1873.

Skin blemishes that result in lesions and loss of sensation in the area are the initial symptoms of the disease. Leprosy can also cause the patient to experience muscle weakness and a tingling sensation in the hands and feet. It is necessary to seek treatment early on, as the infection can cause progressive and permanent sequelae, reaching blindness.

One of the problems currently is being able to diagnose leprosy early on. Two years ago, there was also a lack of medication. Artur Custódio, National coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Leprosy (Morhan), highlights the need for the production of medicines in Brazil, so as not to leave patients vulnerable to external problems.

Last year, Fiocruz announced that it developed the first molecular test for leprosy. Image: Erasmo Salomão/MS

“We need a rehabilitation system that accepts people, that does not have prejudice, that can fulfill the role of rehabilitating those who have been left with some sequel of leprosy. And lastly, we have to face the stigma of the disease. Stigma is underestimated, it is there, it is structural and generates a series of problems, including from the institutional point of view”, he said, in an interview to Agência Brasil .

About 30,000 new cases of the disease are detected annually in Brazil . Worldwide, there are 210 thousand new cases, 15 thousand of which in children. Leprosy occurs in 127 countries, with 80% of cases in India, Indonesia and Brazil. Here, there was already a policy that segregated individuals, but the country eliminated these laws and compensated victims.

Leprosy is spread through the air. Most of the population has natural defenses against the bacteria. But 10% do not have it and can get sick. Treatment is with antibiotics and, thus, the disease is no longer communicable.

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