Dr Benedict Okoe Quao, the Programme Manager of the National Leprosy Control Programme at the Ghana Health Service (GHS), has highlighted the critical role of a leprosy vaccine in achieving zero infections in the country. Dr Quao emphasized the potential game-changing impact of acquiring a vaccine for leprosy, a disease that has received limited attention in terms of vaccine development despite continuous efforts for other diseases.
Leprosy, a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae, is transmitted through droplets from the nose and mouth during close contact with untreated cases. The disease primarily affects the skin and peripheral nerves, leading to progressive and permanent disabilities if left untreated. Dr. Quao expressed the program's goal of eradicating leprosy, emphasizing the need for significant efforts and collaboration from the government, civil society, and the public.
While Ghana recorded 1,569 cases of leprosy in 2000, the number had reduced to 277 by 2022, with eight cases involving children under the age of 15. Dr Quao stressed that achieving zero infections required resources for contact tracing in communities. Ghana began leprosy chemotherapy treatment in 2018, rendering individuals who have encountered lepers non-infectious to prevent future infections.
Dr. Quao raised concerns about the limited implementation of the new intervention in only six out of the sixteen regions. He called for increased efforts in contact tracing, preventive drug distribution, and government commitment to allocating resources for intervention programs. Despite the decline, leprosy is still present across the country, necessitating early detection and treatment.
Dr Quao proposed the inclusion of leprosy in the National Health Insurance coverage to accelerate the zero-infection target. He urged the government to allocate resources for the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), including leprosy and emphasized the need for public education to combat stigmatization. Dr. Quao cautioned against self-treatment for skin conditions, urging the public to seek professional medical assistance.