“I’m good at my studies,” says 18 year old Bikram Bhattarai, smiling sheepishly. “I’m just hoping to get a job after I finish college. Any job.”
Bikram lives with his mother and father in Mandal Basti, Danda Gaun, Nepal. His leprosy was identified as part of a contact survey when a patch was found on his left elbow. These surveys aim to identify people who may have been in close contact with someone known to be infected with leprosy, so that they can also be screened for the disease.
“I was confused at first as to whether I had it. Then I became very conscious that that’s what it was. Only my close friends know about it. They joke about it, but in a nice way.”
Nearly 1 in 11 of all newly diagnosed leprosy patients are children, and the incidence of leprosy among children is indicative of active transmission in the community. Bikram’s neighbor, an even younger boy called Umesh, was also identified within the same contact survey.
Only by interrupting disease transmission through earlier diagnosis and treatment will we achieve zero new cases of leprosy. The Novartis Foundation’s leprosy post-exposure-prophylaxis (LPEP) program provides preventative treatment to close contacts of newly diagnosed patients – such as family members or friends – to decrease the risk of transmission.
The program is currently running in Indonesia, India, Tanzania, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Brazil with several partners, including with Netherlands Leprosy Relief in Nepal.