Leprosy in Nepal [2007/12/10]
Recovering leprosy patients enjoy a game of gateball
The nation of Nepal stretches along the ridges of the Himalayas, a range that includes the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest. Although officially a constitutional monarchy, Nepal suspended monarchial rule in 2006, and the next head of state will be elected by a constituent assembly. The nation is currently governed by a parliamentary system, with parties including the Congress, Communist, and Maoist parties, based on an assembly elected eight years ago. Although elections are scheduled for next year, the current conflict between the parties may prove to be an obstacle to elections.
Nepal’s current literacy rate is around 50%, and there is no public education system. With a per-capital GDP of approximately US $300, poverty is a major problem in the country. Its rural regions must also deal with terrorism, extortion, and plundering, reportedly by armed Maoist groups. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued travel warnings to those considering visiting the nation’s capital of Katmandu. (Photo: Bustling Katmandu)
Along with Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique, Nepal is one of the few remaining nations in which leprosy persists in significant numbers. Nepal currently falls short of the World Health Organization (WHO) objective of no more than one case of leprosy per 10,000 individuals—a level at which the WHO believes public health services should be able to handle the disease. In Nepal, reasons for this failure include political instability, the resulting dysfunctional government and its failure to communicate information about leprosy to rural areas. A former leprosy patient named Ms. Gorimaya (70) living at the Kokana Colony in suburban Katmandu said that for the first 15 years of her illness, she had been unaware that treatment was available. In fact, she did not find out until arriving at the colony ten years ago.
On October 14, Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, addressed a leprosy seminar in Katmandu. In his address, Mr. Sasakawa spoke of various tactics for controlling leprosy, suggesting that the most effective way to approach leprosy treatment in Nepal is to work with nongovernmental organizations to spread information about leprosy throughout rural areas. He said, “I’m firmly resolved to see Nepal finally get leprosy under control.”