By Abujah Racheal
Abuja – Dr Mercy Ekele, a public health expert, says raising awareness on leprosy disease and dispelling misinformation are key to reducing the stigmitisation victims suffer.
Ekele spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Sunday in Abuja, as the world marked this year’s World Leprosy Day.
NAN reports that Leprosy is an infectious disease of the skin and nerves which, if not diagnosed and treated quickly, could result in debilitating disabilities.
The effects of leprosy are exacerbated by the negative stigma surrounding the disease.
The World Leprosy Day is celebrated on Jan. 30, to increase public awareness of the disease.
The day was chosen by French humanitarian Raoul Follereau in 1953, to coincide with the anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi’s death on Jan. 30, 1948.
The theme for this year’s ceremony is “Ending Discrimination, Stigma and Prejudice”.
The public health expert said that leprosy was curable and was not transmitted by casual contact between people.
She said that people being treated could live a normal life if given the opportunity.
The expert challenged the Federal Government to be committed to the efforts toward eliminating leprosy, and against the stigmatisation and exclusion that people with leprosy suffer.
She noted that very little had been achieved by the government toward reducing discrimination and the stigma faced by Nigerians with leprosy.
“There is plenty that governments and lawmakers can do to transform the lives of people affected by this disease and to defeat it.
“In each state, there should be something different that the state government can do. What is crucial in every state where leprosy exists is to maintain commitment to ending the disease,” she advised.
Ekele said that through training and awareness raising campaigns, the government could ensure that leprosy knowledge was present among health care professionals in every state’s general health systems.
She said that Nigerians living with leprosy suffer severe debilitating effect on their body, and called for a unique and holistic toward caring for them.
She called on the government, clergymen, philanthropists and every Nigerian to focus on the physical, social, spiritual and psychological needs of Nigerians living with the disease.
Ekele advocated that state governments should provide them with healthcare, rehabilitation disability care, housing, water and sanitation, because they all live in basic shelters with inadequate sanitation because of discrimination.
“Government should also help in the area of education and some skills for livelihoods. Where the lepers can no longer go to school, government should train their children to encourage them to achieve their full potential.
“Leprosy sees entire families having their job, education and marriage prospects destroyed as a result of age-long stigma and misunderstandings surrounding the disease.
“A myth still prevalent in the world today is that leprosy is a curse for something you have done wrong either recently or in a past life. So let’s continue to work to break such a myth,” she said.
NAN recalls that leprosy is one of the oldest recorded diseases in the world. It is an infectious chronic disease that targets the nervous system, especially the nerves in the cooler parts of the body – the hands, feet, and face.