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World Leprosy Day 2018
Thursday, January 25, 2018



Port-of-Spain, January 26, 2018: The Ministry of Health joins the rest of the world in observing World Leprosy Day on January 28, 2018. The day aims to raise awareness of a disease that many people believe to be extinct.  However, official figures from 145 countries show the global registered leprosy cases at 216 108. While elimination of leprosy as public health problem (defined as less than 1 registered case per 10 000 population) was achieved globally in 2000, World Leprosy Day is a time to remember the hundreds of people around the world who are still diagnosed with leprosy every day. 


The theme for 2018 is Zero Disabilities in Girls and Boys. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, causes nerve damage and muscle weakness that can lead to permanent impairment if not diagnosed and treated. Today, children continue to be diagnosed with visible disabilities. Disabilities do not occur overnight, but happen after a prolonged period of undiagnosed disease. Early detection and scaling up of interventions are fundamental to preventing Hansen’s disease transmission.


The Ministry of Health’s Hansen's Disease Control Unit holds joint Hansen's Disease and Dermatology clinics twice a month at Health Centres in Arima, Chaguanas, George Street - Port-of-Spain, San Fernando, Sangre Grande, and St. Joseph. In Tobago, a Dermatology clinic is held once a month.


By working together and through early case detection, diagnosis and treatment and social inclusion, the world can move one step closer to eliminating Hansen’s disease.




  • Hansen’s disease is a chronic disease caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae.
  • The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes.
  • The disease is spread through droplets from the nose or mouth of a patient to the skin and respiratory tract of another person. Transmission requires close and frequent prolonged contact with an untreated, infected person. About 95% of people have natural immunity against Hansen’s disease.
  • The bacteria multiply slowly, and the average time from exposure to the bacteria to development of symptoms is 5 years. In some cases, symptoms may occur within 1 year, but can also take as long as 20 years to occur.
  • Hansen’s disease should be suspected if a person shows the following signs and symptoms:

o   dark-skinned people might have light patches on the skin, while pale-skinned people have darker or reddish patches

o   loss or decrease of sensation in the skin patch

o   numbness or tingling of the hand or feet

o   weakness of the hands, feet or eyelids

o   painful or tender nerves

o   swelling or lumps in the face or earlobes

o   painless wounds or burns on the hands or feet.


  • Hansen’s disease is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT), and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.
  • Untreated, Hansen’s disease can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes.


For more information please contact the Ministry of Health’s Hansen's Disease Control Unit at 622-3904.  








Q:  What is leprosy?

A: Leprosy is a disease caused by a rod-shaped bacillus called Mycobacterium leprae, or M. leprae for short. It affects mainly the skin and the nerves.



Q: How is leprosy transmitted?

A: Leprosy is thought to be transmitted through the air via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated infectious individuals.



Q: Is leprosy very infectious?

A: On the contrary, leprosy is sometimes called the least infectious of infectious diseases. More than 85% of cases of leprosy are non-infectious and do not spread the disease. Over 99% of people have a natural immunity or resistance to leprosy.



Q: Is leprosy hereditary?

A: No.



Q: Is leprosy curable?

A: Yes. Leprosy is cured by multidrug therapy (MDT), a highly effective treatment that became available in the early 1980s. MDT is a combination of three drugs— dapsone, clofazimine, and rifampicin—administered over a 6- to 12-month period. The first dose of MDT kills 99.9% of the microorganisms in the body that cause leprosy.



Q: What are the symptoms of leprosy?

A: The first sign of leprosy is usually the appearance of patches on the skin. These patches are accompanied by a loss of sensation in the areas affected.



Q: Where is treatment available?

A: In Trinidad and Tobago, people with the disease are treated at the Joint Hansen’s Disease/Dermatology clinics run by the Hansen’s Disease Control Unit of the Ministry of Health. A listing of these clinics is available at



Q: Is treatment expensive?

A: Treatment is free!



Q: Is leprosy widespread?

A: Globally, less than 250,000 new cases of leprosy are diagnosed each year. Since the introduction of MDT in the early 1980s, some 16 million people around the world have been cured of the disease. Today, leprosy remains a public health problem in only one country 1. However, many countries continue to see new cases of the disease.



Q: Why can leprosy result in disfigurement?

A: If untreated, leprosy causes nerve damage and other complications. Patients lose feeling in their hands and feet, and muscles become paralyzed because the nerves supplying them have been impaired. As a result, people with the disease are susceptible to injuries that can result in festering wounds or ulcers. These are secondary infections due to other organisms and are not caused by the leprosy germ. 



Q: Can a person who is physically impaired be cured of leprosy?

A: Leprosy can be cured at any stage. To be cured of leprosy means to have no leprosy-causing bacteria remaining in the body. However, if leprosy is detected and treated only after permanent nerve damage has occurred, there will be residual disability and disfigurement. Disability is preventable with timely diagnosis and prompt treatment. Corrective surgery is also an option in some cases. Residual disability and disfigurement are not a source of leprosy infection.



Q: Is there a vaccine for leprosy?

A: No



Q: Is there any reason to isolate people with leprosy?

A: No. Today, there is no medical or social justification for isolating people with leprosy. People can continue their normal way of life while receiving treatment. Any attempt to isolate people with leprosy stigmatizes them and reinforces age-old prejudices about the disease.



Q: Is leprosy the same as Hansen’s disease?

A: Hansen’s disease is another name for leprosy. It is so called after Dr. G. H Armauer Hansen, the Norwegian doctor who discovered the M. leprae bacillus in 1873. In a number of countries, including Brazil, Japan and the United States, the term ‘Hansen’s disease’ is used instead of leprosy, because of the latter’s association with the derogatory term ‘leper’.



Q: Will leprosy eventually disappear?

A: Leprosy has a long incubation period of between 5 and 20 years. New cases will continue to be diagnosed but in time the number of new cases should decline.



Q: How can I help in the fight against leprosy?

A: Recognize that leprosy is curable, treatment is free and that stigmatizing people with the disease is wrong and pass on these messages to as many people as possible.



Q: What can be done to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy?

A: For a start, reject the use of derogatory terms such as ‘leper’ and its equivalent in other languages: a person should not be defined by his or her disease. Next, acknowledge that people with leprosy, those cured of the disease and their families are full members of society. Finally, keep in mind these words: “

Every person is born free and equal in dignity and rights.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)


1 Leprosy is considered a public health problem in countries where the disease prevalence rate exceeds one case per 10,000 people at the National level (WHO)






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