The Chinese government on Thursday urged local authorities to step up efforts to care for leprosy patients and fight social discrimination.
Despite sustained efforts -- and considerable success -- in bringing it under control leprosy is still a serious disease in some parts of China and people who have been cured continue to suffer discrimination.
As World Leprosy Day approaches on January 28 the Ministry of Health and three other departments have asked local authorities to offer more care to sufferers by carrying out home visits and providing new facilities.
Leprosy, one of the oldest recorded diseases in the world -- first mentioned in writing in 600 BC -- causes deformities and nerve damage. It incubates in the body for up to 20 years and is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during contact with untreated, infected sufferers. However, it can be cured by a sustained year-long antibiotic treatment.
China had reported and treated 500,000 leprosy cases by the end of 2005. Sixty percent of these were in the nation's southwestern areas. While the disease is under general control the situation in some areas is worsening, says the health ministry.
The government has asked local authorities to begin an education campaign on prevention and control of the disease and called for the eradication of discrimination against leprosy patients.
"Society should mobilize to support and care for leprosy patients. Their living, treatment and convalescence problems must be actively managed," the department said in a statement on Thursday. Officials should pay visits to leprosy hospitals and families and send them Spring Festival greetings, it says.
Last July the health ministry published a leprosy control plan vowing to eradicate the disease in Anhui and Qinghai by 2008 and in Chongqing, Guangdong and Shaanxi by 2010.
The government has been providing free treatment for leprosy sufferers. But there are still 6,300 patients in the country and the number is currently increasing by 1,600 a year.
Most leprosy cases are diagnosed in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan and Tibet. Children account for 2.1 percent of new cases.
(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2007)