•Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT) and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability
•Cases have been on the rise since 2012 with risk of contracting the disease high in Kwale, Kilifi and Homa Bay counties
The latest data from the Ministry of Health shows cases of leprosy are on the rise in the country
The report by the Division of National Tuberculosis Leprosy and Lung Disease Programme shows 116 leprosy cases were detected in 2022 from 14 counties.
For many, the mention of the word leprosy rings a bell while others might not clearly understand what disease it is.
Leprosy is an age-old, once highly feared contagious and devastating disease and is described in the literature of ancient civilisations.
It belongs to the group of neglected tropical diseases and is still found in more than 120 countries.
Even though leprosy was eliminated as a public health problem globally in 2000 and in most countries by 2010, the reduction in the number of new cases has been gradual.
What exactly is this rare disease that might be slowly coming back?
According to WHO, leprosy predominantly affects the skin and peripheral nerves and is caused by a type of bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae.
The disease is transmitted through droplets from the nose and mouth. The disease manifests commonly through skin lesions.
“Prolonged, close contact over months with someone with untreated leprosy is needed to catch the disease,” WHO said.
“The disease is not spread through casual contact with a person who has leprosy like shaking hands or hugging, sharing meals or sitting next to each other,” it adds.
Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT) and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability. The patient stops transmitting the disease when they begin treatment.
Apart from the physical deformity, persons affected by leprosy also face stigmatization.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of leprosy mainly affect the skin, nerves and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas inside the body’s openings).
They include discoloured patches of skin, usually flat, that may be numb and look faded (lighter than the surrounding skin), growths (nodules) on the skin, thick stiff or dry skin, painless ulcers on the soles of feet, painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes and loss of eyebrows or eyelashes.
If untreated, the disease causes paralysis and crippling of the hands and feet, nerve damage, shortening of toes and fingers due to reabsorption, chronic non-healing ulcers on the bottoms of the feet, blindness, loss of eyebrows and nose disfigurement.
Kenya achieved the WHO leprosy elimination target in 1989 with cases reducing dramatically from 6,558 in 1986 to 80 in 2012.
WHO has in the past however warned that cases of leprosy are on the rise despite the disease having been eliminated from the country in 1989.
The organisation said cases have been on the rise since 2012 with risk of contracting the disease high in Kwale, Kilifi and Homa Bay counties.