Leprosy Resurgence in Zimbabwe…Government calls for more funding to control biblical disease

The Ministry of Health’s National Tuberculosis (TB) and Leprosy Control Unit has appealed for more financial resources to capacitate healthcare workers and health systems to detect and prevent the spread of Leprosy across the country.

By Michael Gwarisa

The re-emergence of Leprosy in Zimbabwe was first made aware to the media and other attendees of the 13th ECHO Session virtual meeting in 2022, where it was revealed that only 12 cases had been reported in Matabeleland North from 2016 to 2021.

Responding to a community member in Mutare during the UNLHM 2023 consultations, Dr Fungai Kavenga, the Acting Director TB Unit in the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) said the ministry was working on plans to scale up Leprosy control efforts in the country.

We started seeing cases between 2017 and 2022. The Hotspots were Binga, Hwange, Gwanda, Bulilima. Matabeleland North recorded 12 cases. There were two cases in Manicaland between 2017 and 2022. It is something that we are aware of. We are mobilizing resources to ensure that we also include Leprosy control activities in our country,” said Dr Kavenga.

He added that the lack of financial support for Leprosy was slowing down progress in increasing leprosy control efforts.

“We last trained our healthcare workers on Leprosy a few years ago. Some of these healthcare workers have since left so we are looking at training our healthcare workers again on Leprosy. We have medicines for Leprosy in the country or what we call multi-drug therapy and our surveillance system is there to capture and report on Leprosy. I think our biggest challenge is financial resources so we need to all lobby for more financial resources for Leprosy.”

In 1983, the Ministry of Health integrated Leprosy into the TB Control program. By 1989, the country had treated 389 people with Leprosy. In 1992, Zimbabwe eliminated Leprosy as a Public Health threat.
Although Zimbabwe eliminated leprosy as a public health problem in 1992, the country remains vulnerable due to socio-economic factors such as poverty, overcrowding, and poor nutrition which still favor transmission of leprosy infection. Over the past five years, Zimbabwe has been notifying 5-10 new leprosy cases per year, all of them presenting with grade-2 disability at the time of diagnosis due to late detection.

Leprosy or the Hansen disease is one of the oldest diseases known to mankind and is a chronic infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. Leprosy can be spread through the respiratory tract or droplet infections. Patients with long-term contact may also develop the disease. It can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa). With early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be cured.

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