Minister Cummings calls on Guyanese to reduce stigma attached to leprosy
Guyana on Sunday 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 Public Health Ministry, Dr Karen Cummings. Dr Cummings noted that the stigma attached to the disease forced infected persons to isolate themselves and not seek the available medical treatment, which was free of cost in Guyana.
“We must be responsible citizens and do whatever we can to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy,” Minister Cummings stated.
Several trainees were coached in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of patients with leprosy. Also, the Minister noted that the Public Health Ministry was for the first time able to visit Regions One (Barima-Waini); Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni); Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) to follow up, monitor and evaluate the competence of the trainees who were dealing with leprosy, the Government Information Agency (GINA) reported.
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.”
Minister Cummings also stressed that there was great need for peer counsellors within the leprosy programme at the Ministry. She pointed out that currently measures were being put in place to recruit peer counsellors. This is being done through a collaborative effort with the Social Protection Ministry. “Peer counsellors we believe will provide essential assistance in the area of patient follow-up to ensure patient remain on treatment and do not become defaulters,” the Minister explained.
Country Representative from the Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), Dr William Adu-Krow said that his organisation was pleased to have supported the Public Health Ministry last year on its Leprosy Control Programme.
He said, “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.”
Leprosy control has improved significantly throughout the world owing 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.
In 2002, leprosy was thought to have been eliminated. This was due to the disease detection being fewer than 1 case per 10,000 persons. In 2014, none of the endemic 122 countries had recorded more than 1 case per 10,000 persons. However, in 2016, Guyana diagnosed 52 new cases, with Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam) being deemed the most affected region.
The Public Health Ministry throughout the month of February will be conducting a number of awareness exercises across the country. The exercises include visits and educational talks at both primary and secondary schools, with 10 schools on the East Bank targeted. There will also be an awareness booth set up at the Giftland Mall 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.