Malaysia recorded a 15.5 per cent increase in new leprosy cases in 2022, with 164 cases compared to 142 in 2021, said Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa.
Malaysia had 181 leprosy cases in 2020.
“The Health Ministry remains committed to tackling leprosy issues with control and prevention activities targeting at-risk groups at the locality and district levels.
“One of them is community skin screening through active case detection while close contacts are also identified and screened at the clinics according to existing guidelines,” she said.
Dr Zaliha said there was also an increase in leprosy cases globally in 2021, with 140,594 new cases reported compared to 128,405 cases in 2020.
She said at-risk communities such as close contacts and individuals living in endemic localities should head to the clinic immediately when they begin to show early signs of the disease, which are white or copper-red spots on the skin that are not itchy.
“Those not detected early or do not receive treatment face possible complications of permanent physical disabilities. So, it is important for all individuals, family members and the community to play their respective roles and encourage leprosy patients to continue receiving treatment until they are cured,” she said.
Leprosy is one of the oldest infectious diseases besides chronic tuberculosis and can infect close contacts when droplets containing the bacteria ‘Mycobacterium leprae’ are released when the untreated patient coughs or sneezes.
In the past four decades, a total of 18 million leprosy patients worldwide have been treated with the World Health Organisation’s multidrug therapy (WHO-MDT)’ until they are cured and directly reduced the prevalence of leprosy in the world by 95 per cent.
According to Dr Zaliha, there is no need for the community to stay away from leprosy patients because by taking the first dose of treatment, the patient is, scientifically, no longer at risk of infecting others.
World Leprosy Day is celebrated on the last Sunday of every January to commemorate those affected by the disease and to raise awareness that leprosy still exists and that society needs to play a role in ensuring the sustainability and well-being of patients. – Bernama