Trends in leprosy case detection rates.
BACKGROUND: A systematic review of the trends in leprosy incidence is lacking. The question of whether leprosy transmission has declined remains, therefore, unanswered. This study investigates trends in new case detection rates (NCDRs) in selected leprosy-endemic areas from different continents.
METHODS: A literature search using specific inclusion criteria was performed. Average annual rates of change in NCDRs were obtained by exponential curve fitting. The variation in trends within individual areas was investigated using direct and indirect information on leprosy control activities.
RESULTS: This review covers 16 areas in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Latin America. For 10 out of the 16 areas, the trend was seen to be declining consistently over the last 10 years or longer. Near stabilization or stabilization after decline was observed for two areas. For three areas, interpretation of recent NCDRs was difficult due to changes in control, but two of them showed a decline over the study period. A consistently increasing trend was observed over the last 20 years in the one remaining area. The observed downward trends could not be attributed to reduced control activities or changed diagnostic criteria. A general acceleration of downward trends in the NCDR after the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) has not so far occurred.
CONCLUSION: Our main conclusion is that despite many differences between the studies and study areas, the review demonstrates a considerable tendency of downward NCDR trends. Lack of information and changing control conditions necessitate caution in interpreting NCDR trends in individual areas. A general impact of MDT on NCDR trends is so far not visible. The coming years will be crucial for MDT-based control to prove its ability to reduce leprosy incidence.