NEGLECTED TROPICAL DISEASES

Experts on high alert over leprosy resurgence reports

Kenya reached WHO's leprosy elimination target in 1989 when cases dropped from ,558 cases in 1986 to 80 in 2012

In Summary

• So far, reports have been received from parts of Western Kenya, Coast such as Kwale and Kilifi, Busia, Naivasha and Murang’a.

• Leprosy is curable through a course of multi-drug therapy administered for six months to a year, ddrug is free yet many people are unaware that the cure even exists.

Health ministry's Head of Division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases Dr Sultani Matendechero (C) during the Neglected Tropical Diseases conference in Nairobi on Wednesday.
RUNNING TESTS: Health ministry's Head of Division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases Dr Sultani Matendechero (C) during the Neglected Tropical Diseases conference in Nairobi on Wednesday.
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Researchers in the country are on alert over reports of the re-emergence of leprosy. 

Known to be the world’s most feared disease, leprosy is caused by a bacillus bacteria known as microbacterium leprae. It is classified as an airborne and communicable disease. 

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of leprosy mainly affect the skin, nerves and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas just 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. 

According to CDC, since the disease affects the nerves, loss of feeling or sensation can occur, hence injuries such as burns may go unnoticed.

Because you may not feel the pain that can warn you of harm to your body, CDC advises those affected to take extra caution to ensure the affected parts of their body are not injured. 

Leprosy is completely curable through a course of multi-drug therapy administered for six months to a year.

The drug is free, yet many people are unaware that the cure even exists.

“We are getting reports and of course, these are still suspected cases but when we get such reports we do not take them for granted,” Dr Sultani Matendechero said. 

 

Matendechero is the head of division of Vector-Borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Health ministry.

He says so far, reports have been received from parts of Western Kenya, Coast such as Kwale and Kilifi, Busia, Naivasha and Murang’a.

“Most of the time you find it is not the disease, but we cannot overlook. In fact, whenever we get a report we go there, and we look for that case and run tests,” Matendechero noted.

The researchers are considering going to the communities where the reports are coming from to carry out further tests and analysis.

Kenya achieved the World Health Organization leprosy elimination target in 1989 with cases reducing dramatically from 6,558 cases in 1986 to 80 in 2012.

“Officially we know that we have eliminated leprosy, but we are getting some reports of concern. There are people sending pictures and when we look at them we ask ourselves; could it be reemerging?”

“We are now trying to see how we can conduct surveys before we start seeing lepers on the streets. We want to conduct surveys, go out there and establish whether the disease is there so that we can intervene as soon as possible,” the medic reiterated. 

WHO in April issued a warning 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. 

Edited by R.Wamochie