Research says leprosy stigma contributes to prevalence
Researchers in New Zealand have found a continuing deep-seated stigma around leprosy in the Pacific, which could be contributing to an increase in the disease in some countries.
Researchers in New Zealand has found a continuing deep-seated stigma around leprosy in the Pacific, which could be contributing to an increase in the disease in some countries.
The Pacific Leprosy Foundation says the stigma is proving a major barrier to people seeking treatment for the curable disease, which has left some people needlessly disabled as a result.
Its chief executive, Jill Tomlinson, told Jamie Tahana the fact leprosy is curable and not dangerous needs to be better communicated with people, and countries are starting to realise that.
JILL TOMLINSON: We were doing some research to find out about people's perceptions around leprosy just by way of background to a project in Samoa, and the social concerns that people had around leprosy featured quite highly and that the majority of people, their perception was that leprosy was a disease that caused a lot of concern for family of someone diagnosed with leprosy and for the person themselves, and leprosy is unfortunately a disease which causes fear and concern amongst people who are either diagnosed with it or are in contact with somebody who has leprosy, this fear is completely unfounded nowdays, there's been a very effective cure since the 1980s, but people still have perception that it's a dreaded disease.
JAMIE TAHANA: To what extent does a stigma affect those who have been diagnosed?
JTOMLINSON: It does it in a couple ways I guess, there's a self-stigma and that the person diagnosed with leprosy tends to take that onboard and those old feelings and understanding they might have had about leprosy they project them onto themselves, so they will sometimes isolate themselves and hideaway from other people in their community, it may also be a factor in not seeking treatment, and I think that they have leprosy, but would rather not have that concern so delay seeking treatment until the disease is somewhat advanced and then there are often problems with disability once disease has become advanced.
JTAHANA: And that would clearly make it a lot worse as you say something that is curable in its early stages.
JTOMLINSON: Well it's curable at any stage, but once deformities and disabilities have developed, they are not reversible. So the earlier a person can be treated, the less chance they have of developing any disabilities, and a march, march higher chance they've got of leprosy just like being any other disease you might contract.
JTAHANA: So where do you start to change this because leprosy is on the rise in some Pacific countries.
JTOMLINSON: It certainly is, and if we are going to halter we do have to get people to be treated early and to be willing to come forward and be treated. We have to raise community awareness that's the only way we are going to reduce the stigma and we do that with community organisations and helping to educate people about what leprosy is, how they don't have to be scared of it, how it's very difficult actually to contract leprosy and how treatable it is and how people can live a normal life even if though they have had leprosy.
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