Countries where leprosy is endemic have some of the lowest rates for Covid-19 vaccinations in the world, says the St Francis Leprosy Guild.
The UK based charitable organization supports 40 leprosy-based centres in various countries worldwide, including Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar in Asia; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya in Africa; and Brazil in South America. Of the 15 countries where the SFLG operates, only Brazil has an improving rate of vaccination, while most countries in Asia and Africa still have very low vaccination rates.
“In our 125-year history, I don’t think we’ve known more challenging times” said SFLG Chief Executive Officer, Clare McIntosh.
A press release from the SFLG notes that many people in developing countries are uninformed about how to receive the vaccine. In India, for example, 63% of rural Indians, and 40% of those living in small towns do not know how to register for the vaccine.
“People affected by leprosy are the most marginalised and impoverished group in the world,” said McIntosh. “They often live in remote and isolated locations and have no means to travel to a clinic.”
More than 95% of all people detected with leprosy live in 23 “global priority countries” identified by the World Health Organization. Those countries are struggling to provide vaccinations for their people.
Among the countries most affected is Bangladesh. Father Livio Prete, who works at the Dhanjuri Leprosy Centre – which receives assistance from the SFLG – writes, “The percentage of people who received the vaccine is very tiny. I think it will take years to cover with the vaccine all the people. I am waiting, as well all the other foreigners, to receive it.” However, he says, “Despite all these worries we are keeping the service for the leprosy patients as our first priority here at DLC as well with the service in the out-side clinics.”
SFLG’s press release notes the work of the Guild in active case-finding of people with leprosy in order to treat the condition and stop its transmission. The Guild’s trustees have also provided more than £60,000 to assist leprosy centres during the pandemic, amid lower income and rising costs of bandages, food, and medication. Due to the pandemic, however, active-case finding projects have been reduced by 77%, with the SFLG warning that the burden of leprosy disability will increase in the future as a result.
“My heart breaks at the thought of what is happening to this vulnerable group of people who need our support now, more than any other time in SFLG’s history,” said McIntosh. “And I am increasingly concerned that many leprosy programmes will have fallen behind or ceased entirely during the pandemic, especially active-case finding.”
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