According to the Ministry of Health and Medical Services’ National TB/Leprosy Programme, Solomon Islands receives an average of 30 to 40 new cases of leprosy every year and among them are children.
The ministry highlighted the issue of leprosy among children as Solomon Islands join the world to commemorate World Leprosy Day last Sunday.
The theme is “healthy futures: preventing girls and boys from developing disabilities associated with leprosy”.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services said out of 100 newly diagnosed cases in Solomon Islands, an average of six to 12 will be children.
Figures from the National TB/Leprosy Programme revealed that in 2017 Solomon Islands reported 47 new cases of which 10 a children, in 2016 forty-three new cases were reported of which six are children, 2015 thirty-one cases were reported of which three were children and in 2014 forty-eight new cases were reported of which 13 were children.
Figures also revealed that of the seven provinces that recorded leprosy cases the highest number of cases reported is from Honiara City.
“The fluctuating number of cases every year could indicate the presence of untreated cases in endemic areas prior to the elimination period,” a statement from the ministry said.
It said leprosy is curable if caught early.
“However, without improved active case detection and early diagnosis, the number of children at risk of developing impairments and disabilities remains unacceptably high,” the statement said.
Leprosy is caused by a slow growing (bacteria) bacillus, mycobacterium leprae.
It is likely to be transmitted by droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated patients, but it is generally not highly infectious.
The incubation period of the disease is between two and eight years but it can take 20 years or even longer for symptoms to appear.
The ministry said 95 per cent of people have natural immunity to leprosy.
Common signs and symptoms are patches on skin similar to white spots but raised flat with no feeling and itchiness, no hair or sweating on patched areas, numbness of limbs, enlarged peripheral nerves, drop of bridge of nose (between the eyes), loss of eye brows and so on.
The ministry said leprosy is a curable disease and can be easily treated with a course of Multi-drug Therapy (MDT).
“The treatment is a combination of carefully selected drugs.
“Drugs are available free of charge to all patients. MDT is highly effective, has few side-effects and a low relapse rate.”
It said since the introduction of MDT in the 1980s over 16million leprosy patients have been cured.
Despite this, the ministry said many patients are still affected.
Leprosy if left untreated causes immense physical suffering and disability, such as nerve damage and disfigurement of the face and limbs and blindness. Its characteristic lack of sensation can lead to injury and loss of toes and fingers (digits) or even limbs.
The ministry said leprosy can be prevented with simple acts of ensuring children are immunized with BCG nila at their first 24 hours after birth and the follow up immunizations.
“It can also be prevented by improving personal hygiene, reduce overcrowding, covering mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing.
“With early diagnosis we can treat and cure leprosy, helping children live healthy and productive lives,” the statement said.
If you come across any signs and symptoms please call into your nearest clinic.