An unusual spike in the number of leprosy cases in the Maldives this year has led the Centre for Centre for Community Health and Disease (CCHD) to issue a reminder that treatment and diagnosis for such communicable diseases is freely available.
Dr Jamsheed Mohamed from the CCHD told Minivan News that five cases of leprosy had been reported to the government in the first eight months of the year, when the average incidence was 3-4 cases annually.
“Almost all these people received diagnosis [of leprosy] abroad in a neighbouring country and were given short-term treatment,” he said. “Leprosy requires long-term treatment and in some cases this was not explained to the patients – medicine was only obtained for a short period and is not available in pharmacies [locally]. But we do maintain a supply and freely distribute it.”
“Historically diseases such as leprosy and malaria were a problem in the Maldives until the government started control programmes in the 60s,” Dr Jamsheed said.
Very few of the cases involved open skin lesions and were contagious “and there is nothing to be alarmed about,” he added, explaining that the CCHD was more concerned that people were unaware that the facilities and treatment were available locally, “including some healthcare workers.”
“Leprosy has a very long incubation period and the bacteria stays in our bodies for a long time before symptoms appear,” he said, adding that the rising number of cases was in line with a general resurgence of communicable diseases such as conjunctivitis, chicken pox and hand, foot and mouth disease.
“Until we can address population congestion and poor living conditions in crowded islands such as Male’, these diseases will remain with us and there is very little we can do to combat them effectively.”
Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. If it is untreated it can permanently damage the the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes, although contrary to its reputation the disease does not cause body parts to fall off.