The role of perceptions and knowledge of leprosy in the elimination of leprosy: A baseline study in Fatehpur district, northern India.
BACKGROUND: With the introduction of new interventions to prevent leprosy, such as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) given to contacts of leprosy patients, it is necessary to update our understanding of knowledge and perception of leprosy among the populations where these interventions will be introduced, in order to tailor communication optimally to the current situation. This study is a baseline study of the PEP++ project and aimed to assess the knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding leprosy in Fatehpur, India.
METHODOLOGY: The study used a community-based cross-sectional design with a mixed-methods approach. We assessed knowledge, attitudes, and practices with the KAP measure, and stigma with the Explanatory Model Interview Catalogue community stigma scale (EMIC-CSS) and the Social Distance Scale (SDS). In addition, semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with all participant groups. The quantitative data were analysed using stepwise multivariate regression. The qualitative data were analysed using open, inductive coding and content analysis.
FINDINGS: A total of 446 participants were included in the study: 100 persons affected by leprosy, 111 close contacts, 185 community members and 50 health care workers. In addition, 24 in-depth interviews were conducted and 35 people were included in focus group discussions. 12.5% of the participants had adequate knowledge of leprosy, while 22% had poor knowledge. Knowledge on cause (answered correctly by 10% of the participants), mode of transmission (5%) and symptoms of leprosy (16%) was especially poor. The mean EMIC-CSS score was 15.3 (95%CI 14.6-16.0) and mean SDS score 7.2 (95%CI 6.6-7.8). Better knowledge of leprosy was associated with lower levels of social distance towards persons affected by leprosy.
CONCLUSION: This study revealed poor knowledge regarding leprosy and high levels of stigma and fear and desire to keep social distance towards persons affected by leprosy. Community education that takes cultural beliefs, knowledge gaps and fears into consideration could improve knowledge, reduce misconceptions and positively influence the perception of leprosy.