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The missing millions: A threat to the elimination of leprosy.


Leprosy is a slow, chronic disease with a long incubation period caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The clinical presentation varies across a wide spectrum from tuberculoid to lepromatous leprosy. The condition is characterized by skin lesions and damage to peripheral nerves leading to physical disability and social problems. The past 50–60 years have witnessed remarkable progress in the fight against leprosy. The introduction of dapsone therapy in the late 1940s was the first effective treatment for leprosy, and this was followed by the move to short course multidrug therapy (MDT) in 1981. The World Health Assembly Resolution in 1991 [1] to “eliminate leprosy as a public health problem” by the year 2000 galvanised extraordinary international support resulting in the fall in the point prevalence of patients registered for treatment of leprosy by over 90% to less than 1 in 10,000 at the global level. The effort was led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and supported by national governments and their health service staff, the Nippon Foundation, Novartis, the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Organizations (ILEP), local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and by people affected by leprosy. Since 2000, the focus has moved from prevalence of leprosy to incidence as measured by reported new case detection to sustain the achievements and to reduce the burden of disease, particularly on reduction and prevention of disability associated with leprosy and rehabilitation of those facing the long-term consequences of the disease.

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Journal Article
Smith WC
van Brakel WH
Gillis T
Saunderson P
Richardus JH