The World Health Organization’s (WHO) honorary ambassador for the Elimination of Hansen’s Disease, Yohei Sasakawa, and the Brazilian Minister of Health, Agenor Àlvares, discussed ways to erradicate this endemic disease, which is also known as leprosy.
In Brazil, which is second only to India in the incidence of Hansen’s disease, the ministry identified 38,410 cases last year.
Sasakawa is the founder of the Nippon Foundation, an organization that buys medications to treat the disease and donates them to the WHO for distribution.
According to the ministry’s director of Epidemiological Surveillance, Expedito Luna, Brazil has made substantial progress in combatting Hansen’s disease in the past two years, but much remains to be done, especially in the North and Northeast regions. The goal is to eliminate the disease by 2010.
"Our policy is to expand the network of services that can provide diagnosis and treatment in order to facilitate people’s access to the necessary care," Luna explained, adding that the Family Agents and Community Health Agents programs are also enlisted to increase the capacity to detect cases "and submit them to treatment, avoiding further infection."
With an average of 1.5 cases in every 10 thousand inhabitants, through the program Brazil can reduce this number to less than 1 case in every 10 thousand inhabitants.
Luna also pointed out that, besides prejudice, the chief obstacle to combatting the disease is the lack of specialized physicians. "Specialists are very rare nowadays. Doctors are reluctant and prejudiced when it comes to assuming responsibility for treating cases."
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