New Delhi: A World Health Organisation survey of drug-resistant leprosy has detected 8 percent of samples tested in India resistant to rifampicin, a drug used to treat the infection leading to concerns that the country could fail to its target of completely eradicating the disease by 2020.
The global survey was carried out on new and relapsed cases reported between 2008-15 and shows highest number of samples, apart from Brazil, were resistant to the drug used in the first line of treatment under the national leprosy eradication programme.
“Within the limited surveillance coverage, we highlight the potential risk of resistance to effective multi drug therapy, especially in the highest burden countries Brazil and India, where the rate of resistance is becoming noteworthy while acknowledging the limitation that in those two countries a high number of samples were tested,” the survey noted.
Leprosy, a bacterial infection, is known to silently advance in the human host with early symptoms showing numb skin patches and shiny skin that progress into nodules on the entire body.
Though since 2005, the disease is no longer a public health concern in India, the country still has highest number of leprosy patients in the world and also every year the highest--about 60 per cent of the total cases--number of new patients are detected in India.
Many experts, have reiterated their concerns that Rifampicin may not be a good option as a drug in preventing proliferation of leprosy following the WHO study.
“Some scientists at the National Institute of Immunology too had claimed to have developed a vaccine against Mycobacterium indicus pranii, which is also being used for leprosy. This medicine too doesn't seem to be working the way it was projected. Hence, there is need to relook at the national leprosy control programme," said an expert at the Indian Council of Medical Research.
About 200 districts in India have high incidence of leprosy but the disease is not distributed equally among the population. "It seems difficult to meet the projected target of leprosy eradication by 2020,” he said.