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Leprosy research resumed in 'leprosy-free' Maharashtra

With the silent killer having reared its ugly head again in the state, medical bodies are resuming their academic analysis of the disease, with a focus on early diagnosis, and rehabilitation of disabled patients
 
Leprosy, which was reportedly eliminated from the state in 2005, has reappeared in Maharashtra, especially in districts like Thane and Nashik. Taking heed of the situation, authorities are now busy drawing up fresh plans -- not only to treat afflicted patients, but also to devise new ways to rehabilitate those who have already been treated for the disease. Research in areas like detection, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation has been resumed.


Back to square one? With the state having formally achieved leprosy
elimination as per WHO standards in 2005, experts are worried that
clinicians will not be willing to conduct research in the field, even though
rehabilitation of treated patients is still a source of major concern.
Representation pic


Dr P Y Gaikwad, joint director of the leprosy department of the Directorate of Health Services, said, "In the last few months, we have registered a total of 1,970 new cases in 19 districts of the state, including Thane and Mumbai. We are trying to evaluate the cause for the resurgence of the disease, as prevention is one of our major concerns. We have adopted the concept of self-care kits, which we will soon start distributing to patients. As reconstructive surgery for leprosy-affected patients is a subspecialty, we are training orthopaedic and plastic surgeons to perform such surgeries."

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also invited clinicians to initiate research on leprosy.

President of the Indian Association of Leprologists, Dr Atul Shah, said, "We have to treat disabilities left behind in patients even after they have been treated for the disease. We also need to prevent newly diagnosed patients from developing disabilities, through early diagnosis. This is why research has to be encouraged. While the ICMR has invited papers, we have also scheduled a conference of more than 200 leprologists, so that the science of leprosy can be harnessed to benefit society."

With the state having formally achieved leprosy elimination as per WHO standards in 2005, experts are worried that clinicians will not be willing to conduct research in the field, even though rehabilitation is still a source of major concern.

Dr Neela Shah, director of Novartis Comprehensive Leprosy Care Association said, "While the government distributes medicines, there is a lot more to do. The priority is not just to treat the people detected with leprosy, but rehabilitating those who have been treated for the disease. We need to help patients regain movement in their disabled limbs and digits. We have been distributing specially designed grip aids and self-care kits for these patients."

"Patients of leprosy often develop claw hands, a medical condition that causes curved or bent fingers. With our kits, they are able to grip objects and perform their daily activities with ease. Patients also tend to develop ulcers quite regularly on their deformed limbs and digits, and need to be trained to tend to these ulcers. Self-care kits empower patients, as they can care for themselves without having to depend on or hire outside help," added Dr Shah, a professor of plastic surgery at JJ hospital.

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