In 2016, more than 18,000 boys and girls were diagnosed with leprosy. Quite a number of these children had already developed disabilities associated with the disease. The development of such lifelong disabilities in children is preventable if new leprosy cases are detected and treated early. Even existing nerve damage of recent onset can be treated and often reversed if diagnosed and treated promptly. Once established, nerve damage does not recover spontaneously, so children will have to learn to manage this, but they remain at risk of further disabilities if they don’t look after themselves very well. A major risk is that they develop visible disabilities that are recognised as being caused by leprosy, which can jeopardise their educational, employment and marriage prospects. Early detection and careful management of child cases of leprosy is therefore of utmost importance. Strategies and interventions to stop the transmission of leprosy will eventually lead to zero new cases among children. The current target of the WHO is to have no more children becoming disabled due to leprosy by the year 2020.
This dossier offers an overview of recent (scientific) publications on childhood leprosy and prevention of disability in children.