18.2 Burden of leprosy in the world
Leprosy once affected every continent and left behind a terrifying image of mutilation, rejection and exclusion from society. But what is encouraging is that leprosy is a now a communicable disease ‘in retreat’. Of the 122 countries where it was considered to be a public health problem in 1985, in 119 of them, including Ethiopia, the disease has been eliminated in recent years.
In Ethiopia, 5,004 new cases of the disease were reported between the last quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2008 (European calendar), with the lowest number (seven cases) reported by Harar region and the highest number (2,610 cases) reported by Oromia region. Although Ethiopia has attained a leprosy elimination level of 0.57 cases per 10,000 population nationally, over the last few years the number of new child cases, and the number of new cases detected with disabilities of the type shown in Figure 18.1, are seen as unacceptably high by WHO standards. Rates at this level usually indicate continuing transmission of leprosy bacteria in the affected communities.