Belated but good

Another anniversary and another round of commitment. The Ministry of Health (MoH) is now drafting a guideline for rehabilitation of leprosy patients to commemorate the World Leprosy Day. The idea to set aside certain days on the calendar to commemorate important themes is indeed a novel concept. But the idea to wait until such a day to make an announcement of a new plan or a policy is not. It is the necessity that must dictate the timing of the launch of a project or the announcement of a plan. If the past is any guide, similar important dates in Nepal have not been actually taken the way they should have been. Rehabilitating leprosy patients from the Leprosy Day onwards or the announcement of appropriate move is welcome. But the way it has been made to sound, as if the plan would not have been on the anvil in the absence of a commemorative day does not uphold the theme of calendar markers. Nor would it justify holding a rally only on the AIDS Day to raise awareness about the deadly disease, or wait until the Environment Day to inform others about the importance of keeping the environment clean, all the while remaining mum on these issues for the rest of the year. The fact that leprosy patients are in need of rehabilitation must have been the sole reason to draft the aforesaid.

Regardless of the timing of the announcement, leprosy patients have a reason to celebrate. In Nepal they have been made a victim of social stigma. It is falsely believed that leprosy is a manifestation of one’s evil association or act. Instead, it is a curable disease if diagnosed and treated on time. Because the disease in some cases is communicable, it is important to have a state-of-art rehabilitation centre for the sole purpose of treating leprosy patients and returning them to lead an ordinary life thereafter. Barring the comprehensive policy guideline, the government’s effort to bring down leprosy prevalence rate is commendable. As the WHO deadline to eradicate the disease in Nepal is 2005, the MoH has a long way to go, particular so given the fact that the current prevalence rate per 10,000 is 2.24 as against the goal of bringing that ratio down to 10,000 to one. The challenge lies in successful campaign to raise awareness among the masses. But additional work on strengthening surveillance and building a data base is no less vital. To make the patients aware that medicine is available for free is also a big push towards the finish line. Even more important is it to drive home the message that the patient is at no fault in suffering from the disease. It is for others to get enlightened that leprosy is curable and spare the patients ignominy and inferiority complex, so often associated with the malady.