A majority of the NTD disease burden in Latin America and the Caribbean occurs in Brazil. This week, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is launching a public health campaign to diagnose and treat soil-transmitted helminths (or intestinal parasites) and leprosy in school-aged children. Over the next few days, we will be featuring stories related to the fight against NTDs in Brazil.

Leprosy is possibly one of the oldest diseases known to mankind. It is also one that causes great stigmatization and marginalization of those who are affected by it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pockets of high leprosy rates remain in some areas of Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania. India has the greatest incidence of leprosy, with 133,717 new cases in 2009; followed by Brazil, with 37,610 new cases in 2009. In Latin America and the Caribbean, leprosy is no longer a public health problem, except for in Brazil. The Brazilian government is working tirelessly to combat leprosy and to empower those who are currently affected. Because of this, Brazil is close to eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, which is defined as less than 1 case per 10,000 people.

Also known as Hansen's disease, leprosy is caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae and it is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, through close and frequent contact with untreated cases. Still, it is important to note that it is not highly infectious. Leprosy can cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes, if left untreated. The main treatment for leprosy is multidrug therapy (MDT), which includes dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine.

In 2009, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) adopted Resolution CD 49/9: “Elimination of Neglected Diseases and Other Poverty-Related Infections.” In doing so, member states have shown, once again, their commitment to eliminating NTDs by 2015. Current efforts by the Brazilian Ministry of Health show significant reduction in the prevalence of leprosy. A survey done nation-wide showed a 25.9 percent reduction of new cases between 2001 and 2011, going from 45,874 to 33,955 new cases.

Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, the Secretary of Health Surveillance for the Brazilian Ministry of Health, stresses that early detection and diagnosis is crucial in reducing the effects of leprosy. He urges everyone to seek health services if they notice patches of skin of a different color, especially if they have decreased sensitivity to heat and touch. Treatment is free of charge, and it immediately reduces the spread of the disease.

The Brazilian government works closely with MORHAN (Movimento de Reintegração das Pessoas Atingidas pela Hanseníase, or the National Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Leprosy), a non-profit organization focused on reducing leprosy and the stigma associated with it. Last month, during a national MORHAN meeting, the Brazilian Minister of Health, Dr. Alexandre Padilha, announced that he will allocate funds to purchase equipment and materials for disability prevention and rehabilitation associated with leprosy.

The Global Network is excited to work with Brazil in its efforts towards reaching the elimination of leprosy in the country.