Guyana moving to reduce stigma attached to Leprosy

Dr. Karen Cummings

Guyana yesterday joined the rest of the world in observing World Leprosy Day. To raise awareness, a talk to formally launch a month of activities was held at the Palms Geriatric Home on Brickdam.

Delivering the feature address at the launch was Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings who noted that the stigma attached to the disease forces infected persons to isolate themselves and not seek the available medical treatment which is free of cost in Guyana. “We must be responsible citizens and do whatever we can to reduce the stigma and discrimination associate with Leprosy” Minister Cummings stated.

Dr. Karen Cummings addressing stakeholders at yesterday’s launching ceremony of World Leprosy Day at the Palms Geriatric Home in Georgetown

Several trainees were coached in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of patients with leprosy. Also, the Minister noted that the Ministry of Public Health was for the first time able to visit Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine to follow up, monitor and evaluate the competence of the trainees who were dealing with Leprosy.

Minister Cummings stated that “the Ministry of Public Health through its infectious disease programme, will continue to work tirelessly to improve and ensure the reduction of the prevalence of leprosy in Guyana through coordinated efforts of health promotions, surveillance and prompt access to treatment”.

PAHO/WHO representative Dr. William Adu-Krow at the launching ceremony of World Leprosy Day at the Palms Geriatric Home

Minister Cummings also stressed that there is a great need for peer counselors within the leprosy programme at the Ministry. The minister pointed out that currently, measures are being put in place to recruit peer counselors. This is being done through a collaborative effort with the Ministry of Social Protection. “Peer counselors we believe will provide essential assistance in the area of patient follow-up to ensure patients remain on treatment and do not become defaulters”, the Minister explained.

Country Representative from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Dr. William Adu-Krow said his organization is pleased to have supported the Ministry of Public Health last year on their Leprosy Control Programme.  “This year 2017, we are committed to continue our support to the Ministry of Public Health in its efforts towards achieving the ultimate goal of Leprosy elimination at the National Level in Guyana,” he said.

Leprosy control has improved significantly throughout the world due to national and sub-national campaigns in endemic countries. Integration of basic leprosy services and inter-general health services has made diagnosis and treatment of the disease more accessible.

According to a GINA report,  in 2002 leprosy was thought to have been eliminated. This was due to the disease detection being fewer than 1 per 10,000 population. In 2014, none of the endemic 122 countries had recorded more than 1 per 10,000 population. However, in 2016, Guyana diagnosed/recorded 52 new cases with Region Two being deemed the most affected region.

The Ministry of Public Health throughout the Month of February will be conducting a number of awareness exercises throughout the country. The exercises include visits and educational talks to  both primary and secondary schools of which 10 schools on the East Bank will be targeted. There will also be an awareness booth set up at the Giftland Mall Turkeyen on February 18 and 19, followed by a health walk on Brickdam on February 25.

Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. The disease has been around since ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying, negative stigmas and tales of leprosy patients being shunned as outcasts. However, the disease is completely curable. Persons with the disease are urged to seek early treatment as this can prevent disfiguring disability related to the advanced stages of Leprosy.


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