Wed. Apr 24th, 2019

Kenya not yet Leprosy free

Leprosy, one of the oldest and most stigmatized diseases, is still in Kenya, three decades after the country was declared free of the bacterium.

Kilifi, Siaya, Busia, Homa Bay and Kisumu are the most affected counties, according to the Nation’s Literature Review of Open Access studies conducted between 2013 and 2018.

Turkana is the least affected county, the study says. Experts blame the situation on poor surveillance.

They say little money is given to programmes meant to detect and treat the disease, train health workers and create awareness.

Leprosy is a contagious illness caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacterium. It can be easily cured with a combination of drugs if detected early.

When not treated, it leads to limb deformities. Patients can also go blind and may never be sensitive to pain or heat because their nerves are damaged.

The incubation period — the time it takes to develop into a disease once the bacteria get into one’s body — is three to 10 years, or more depending on a person’s immunity.

In Kenya, leprosy is among the 15 neglected tropical diseases.

However, it is under the tuberculosis programme, perhaps because of the similarities between the bacteria that cause TB and leprosy.

The country was declared leprosy-free in 1989 after reporting less than one case in 10,000 people.

Ministry of Health Neglected Tropical Diseases department head Sultan Matendechero says he has come across 10-year-old patients in Kwale.


Dr Matendechero decries passive surveillance in Kenya, where people are tested and treated only when they go to hospital.

“Active surveillance is what we need. If a case is reported, health workers should follow the patient to the village to see if the bacteria has spread,” he told the Nation by phone.

The World Health Organisation says about 250,000 new leprosy cases have been reported globally since 2005.

According to the Health Ministry, Kenya had more than 600 cases in 1986 but just 189 in 2013. However, the true figure may be double, medics say.

In 2016, WHO said the number of people identified with visible deformities increased by 13 percent.

Dr Matendechero said WHO gives Kenya the drugs to fight the disease.

He added that the NTD programme would soon conduct a survey with the TB plan and the Kenya Medical Research Institute to assess the reports of the cases received from Kwale.