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Advancing Leprosy Eradication: India's New Treatment Regimen

Published: 27th Jan, 2024

Advancing Leprosy Eradication: India's New Treatment Regimen

Context

The Health Ministry, in a significant move, has introduced a new treatment regimen for leprosy, with the ambitious goal of halting its transmission at the sub-national level by 2027. This initiative aligns with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, pushing the deadline forward by three years.

Background

  • Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has greenlit a three-drug regimen for Pauci-Bacillary (PB) cases, replacing the existing two-drug regimen lasting six months.
  • This decision is rooted in the latest global scientific research and evidence-based practices.

Implementation Timeline and WHO's Role:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has committed to providing the revised drug regimen starting April 1, 2025.
  • States and Union Territories are urged to submit their requisitions for anti-leprosy drugs a year in advance.
  • Simultaneously, the revised classification of leprosy and the treatment regimen for PB and multi-bacillary (MB) cases in India will come into effect.
  • Despite the efficacy of the existing two-drug regimen, the introduction of a third drug, clofazamine, has been met with some questioning.
  • Healthcare experts, point out that the two-drug regimen is already effective, and the third drug may introduce additional side effects.

Understanding Leprosy:

  • Leprosy, caused by Mycobacterium leprae bacteria, is a chronic infectious disease impacting the skin and peripheral nerves.
  • If left untreated, it can lead to permanent disabilities.
  • The bacteria spread through droplets from the nose and mouth during close contact.
  • Multi-drug therapy (MDT), consisting of dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine, is recommended by the WHO for curing leprosy.

Rationale Behind Three-Drug Regimen:

  • PB patients exhibit fewer visible bacteria and show no signs of advanced disease in biopsies, while MB patients have visible bacteria and may display indications of more advanced disease.
  • The new treatment regimen is seen as a significant stride towards achieving the collective goal of eradicating leprosy in India by 2027.

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