August 28, 2003

Leprosy resurfaces

About six years after the Malawi government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Malawi free of leprosy, the disease has resurfaced. The Harry Foundation for Development (Hafod), a local NGO for people with leprosy, said there had since been recorded cases in the districts of Lilongwe, Mangochi, Mchinji, Machinga, Salima and Zomba. Hafod president, Harry Khamalatha, said there were six cases currently being treated and accused authorities of failing to raise awareness about the disease, which starts as a severe skin infection and can lead to severe disfigurement and a loss of limbs if not treated early.

Richard Chinsinga, 40, who is being treated at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, said it took him about three years before he knew he had the disease. "My wife has since run away from me with my six children. I'm a lonely and miserable man," said Chinsinga.

The health ministry's Controller of Preventive Health Services, Habib Somanje, said the eradication of leprosy did not mean the infection would never resurface. He said the ministry continued to hold awareness campaigns at district level about the disease. "We go to areas where there are some cases and treat them accordingly," said Somanje. He said that internationally, Malawi was still considered as having eradicated leprosy. (African Eye News Service, Nelspruit)

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