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More Care and Support Needed for Leprosy Patients

The Chinese government on Thursday urged local authorities to step up efforts to care for leprosy patients and fight social discrimination.

Despite sustained efforts -- and considerable success -- in bringing the disease under control, leprosy is still a serious disease in some parts of China and people who have been cured of the disease continue to suffer discrimination.

As World Leprosy Day approaches on Jan. 28, the Ministry of Health and three other departments have asked local authorities to offer more care to leprosy sufferers by carrying out home visits and providing new facilities.

Leprosy, which is one of the oldest recorded diseases in the world -- first mentioned in writing in 600 BC -- causes deformities and nerve damage. It incubates in the human body for up to 20 years and is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during contact with untreated, infected sufferers.

However, it can be cured by a sustained year-long antibiotic treatment.

China had reported and treated 500,000 leprosy cases by the end of 2005, 60 percent of them in the nation's southwestern areas. While the disease is under general control, the situation in some areas is worsening, says the health ministry.

The government has asked local authorities to wage an education campaign about the prevention and control of the disease, and called for the eradication of discrimination against leprosy patients.

"Society should mobilize to support and care for leprosy patients. Their living, treatment and convalescence problems must be actively managed," the department said in a statement on Thursday.

Officials should pay visits to leprosy hospitals and families and send them Spring Festival greetings, it says.

Last July, the health ministry published a leprosy control plan, vowing to eradicate the disease in Anhui and Qinghai by 2008 and in Chongqing, Guangdong and Shaanxi by 2010.

The government has been providing free treatment for leprosy patients. But there are still 6,300 leprosy patients in the country, and the number is currently increasing by 1,600 a year.

Most leprosy cases are found in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Hunan and Tibet. Children account for 2.1 percent of new cases.

(Xinhua News Agency January 5, 2007)

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