Working together to end leprosy
While leprosy is on the decline globally, it is still far from being eradicated. Health teams and villagers in Senegal could be close to halting the spread of the disease.
To begin with, light patches appear on the skin. The leprosy bacterium later destroys skin, nerves, bones and tissue – sufferers experience pain and, in many cases, disfigurement. And yet this could be prevented easily, as Christa Kasang notes, ‘If caught early, leprosy can be cured with a combination of three antibiotics,’ explains the infectious disease biologist, a project manager at the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (DAHW).
Leprosy is classed as a neglected tropical disease. With barely any attempts made to systematically tackle the illness over the last decade, the World Health Organization (WHO) has placed the eradication of leprosy on its Immunisation Agenda 2021-2030. DAHW and the University of Thiès are working hand-in-hand in Senegal to help achieve this objective. Doctors, hospital staff and health service personnel are learning how to detect leprosy more effectively and treat it faster.
Mass testing in hotspots
The main focus is on mass testing and distributing antibiotics as a precautionary measure in nine particularly disadvantaged villages. Most of the 200 or so cases of leprosy still recorded annually in Senegal occur here. Before any treatments were available, leprosy sufferers in these villages were placed in isolation. While the disease has largely disappeared in the rest of the country, it still persists in these communities, as do many myths around it.
‘The medical approach in these hotspots includes building trust and knowledge,’ explains Christa Kasang. People from the villages who suffer from leprosy themselves work in the teams. They inform the villagers about how the disease spreads and how to avoid infection. Health workers have already tested more than 7,000 people and successfully treated around 40 patients in the early stages of leprosy. 6,500 people, the majority of the at-risk population, took antibiotics as a precautionary measure. For Senegal, this represents another step towards eradicating the disease.
One of 400 hospital partnerships
Through the Hospital Partnerships programme, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is currently supporting 400 health-sector partnerships between German institutions and their counterparts in 65 countries worldwide. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is assisting BMZ with local networking, results orientation and communication.