WHO releases global leprosy update

September 7, 2016

ILEP welcomes the World Health Organization’s update on the global leprosy situation: the WHO WER published on 2 September 2016 and applauds the higher number of countries reporting this year and its focus on the global targets from the Global Leprosy Strategy 2016 – 2020.

This year, additional information has been collected on:

  • Existing laws and policies that allow discrimination against people affected by leprosy
  • Foreign born new cases of leprosy

This year 136 countries responded (providing information on data collected in 2015), compared to 121 countries last year.

In terms of number of cases of leprosy registered, the total has reduced slightly from 175,554 to 174,608 this year. The number of new cases of leprosy detected is also down from 213,899 to 210,758. These figures were calculated with data from 121 countries last year and 136 countries this year.

Observing the numbers of people newly affected with leprosy, with the exception of 2012, there has been a gradual reduction in numbers over the last 10 years, and this trend continued in the current report.

In 2014, there were 13 countries which reported more than 1000 new cases. In the most recent report there were 14 countries which reported more than 1000 new cases in the year. Mozambique returned to this group, having not reported for the past two years. The recent report noted that 95% new cases of leprosy are found in this group of 14 countries. Looking across countries; this report and the last report both show that 81% of new cases of leprosy occur in India, Indonesia and Brazil. These three key countries are vital in the fight against leprosy. Within these countries, Brazil saw a decrease of 4,669 new cases, now representing 12.5% of the total of new cases. Indonesia remained stable with 8% of the total and India showed new cases increasing from 58.8% to 60.4% of that total.

An important indicator of how well services are managing to reach everyone is the percentage of females recorded among new cases of leprosy. In the previous report, the figure was 37.7% globally and in the most recent report is 38.8%.  While this increase is encouraging, the percentage of females diagnosed among new leprosy cases is still relatively low and also varies greatly across countries. For example, females comprised only 22.5% of new cases detected in Timor-Leste, while in Kiribati, females comprised 54.4% of new cases.

A similarly important statistic (which reflects how soon after infection people are being diagnosed) is the percentage of people diagnosed who already have visible impairments as a result of the disease. These percentages saw a slight increase from 6.6% to 6.7% in the most recent report. This reflects a generally increasing trend over the last ten years, with 12,392 cases recorded in 2006 versus 14,059 in the 2015 data.  This trend is of concern to all in the leprosy world, particularly in light of the decreasing overall case detection across this time-frame.

An important statistic for tracking leprosy is the percentage of children recorded among new cases.  When children are diagnosed with the disease, it means that it has been transmitted relatively recently.  It is of concern to note that the recent report shows a slight increase to 8.9% based on the 2015 data, which is up from 8.8% in the previous report. This year’s report highlights that 18,796 children were newly detected.

An important new addition to the data collected for the current report, is the presentation of data on the number of children newly diagnosed, who already have visible impairments due to leprosy. Data were received from 45 countries, with 39 reporting no new cases with visible impairments.  However of the remaining countries, there were 271 children reported with impairments already evident.  This figure is of considerable concern, and will be watched closely in relation to the global target “Zero Grade 2 disabilities among paediatric leprosy patients.”

In terms of relapses after treatment, fewer countries reported this year, but the report shows a substantial increase from 1312 reported last year to 3039 relapses recorded in this report.

For the current report, 18 countries reported 743 new cases of leprosy diagnosed among foreign or migrant populations. Likewise, this new statistic will be monitored closely.

The WHO also sought information from national programmes on legislation allowing discrimination on account of leprosy in their countries. These are important statistics to collect and ILEP looks forward to collaborating further to monitor progress on this important issue.