posted by admin on May 8

In the past, when there was no effective treatment, the patients were segregated in leprosaria so as to protect those who were not infected. However, no such justification for segregation exists today: for one thing, only about one-fifth of all leprosy sufferers are ever infectious, even prior to treatment; furthermore, those that are infectious can be rendered noninfectious within three weeks of appropriate treatment. Unnecessary segregation lends support to the groundless fears of the general public regarding the infectiousness of leprosy. It also causes many would-be patients to hide their disease, encouraging the spread of other infectious diseases which they may suffer from, such as tuberculosis. Furthermore it reduces the opportunities for medical students, nurses and doctors to learn about the disease.

The most commonly used and effective drug which destroys the germ within about three weeks, is the antibiotic Rifampicin. It is the same antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis, which is a germ very similar to the one causing Hansens disease. Subsequent treatment is with the much cheaper years with Dapsone. Those with the Iepromatous form are treated for life. Equally as important as the drug programme, is the rehabilitation of those with deformities. This involves particular skills of plastic and orthopaedic surgeons, as well as those of occupational therapists and physiotherapists. Specialized footwear has been developed for patients, and considerable research is still proceeding. In fact one of the more exciting research projects in this field involves the possibility of a specific vaccine that would be effective against the disease.

Because of its subtle and very gradual onset, Hansens disease will not be eradicated by the sort of vigorous imaginative control programme which has been so effective for smallpox. It will, however, be eradicated slowly as modern treatment becomes freely available to cooperating patients. Major steps towards this will be the medical exorcism of the word ‘leper’, and the acceptance of patients with Hansens disease into our clinics, our surgeries and our hospitals as unrestricted patients and fellow human beings.

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