There is worrying concern among health care officials in Guyana about the number of new leprosy cases being discovered annually.
Although Guyana has been named as a country which has eliminated leprosy because of its control of the diseases, there have been at least 5o new cases per year over the past few years.
The Director of the National Leprosy Control Programme, Dr. Heather Morris-Wilson, in an interview explained that many people may not even be aware that they have leprosy and in many cases, would dismiss it as just a skin infection.
“It is not itchy, it is not painful, sometimes we call it the numb spot because you don’t feel on it but then it starts to grow”.
But unlike many common skin infections, leprosy could become painful and lead to several deformities as it attacks the nervous system. Persons would find it difficult to spread their fingers and toes aside and as a rash like spot takes over the body.
“The incubation period could be very long, between three and five years and some persons might manifest symptoms in even twenty years”, Dr. Morris-Wilson said.
Most of the cases have been found to be in Regions 4, 5 and 6. There is no specific reason why those three regions are the ones with the highest number of cases.
She said the germ that leads to leprosy affects the skin, the nerves and the eyes as well as the limbs. Once it attacks the nervous system, patients could see inflamed joints or nerves.
Dr. Wilson said “most of the cases we see, it begins with a spot and the spot could be on any place of the body and it could even be hidden. So when we see a patient and we see a spot, we ensure we examine them properly.” She further explained that health officials would even visit the home of the patient to ensure no one else would have contracted the disease. It could be transferred by direct skin to skin contact.
She said the multi drug therapy to treat and cure leprosy is available in Guyana through the Ministry of Public Health at no cost. The treatment could run from six months to up to a year, depending on the severity of the disease.
The National Leprosy Control Programme is located at the skin clinic at the Palms Institute on Brickdam.