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Eradicating leprosy?

In this age of medical advancements it's sometimes hard to believe that any disease we can treat could still persist. Here on Scope, we've discussed several such diseases that we can treat but can't quite eradicate, such as malaria and leprosy. Leprosy, as my colleague explains, is an ancient disease that continues to thrive in the modern world even though an effective and free treatment is widely available to patients suffering from the disease.

If you're slack-jawed in disbelief, you have good company. Yet, as incredible as this sounds, access to an effective and affordable treatment isn't the only barrier to eradicating a disease. Yesterday, this article in The Economist Explains discusses some of the nuances to eradicating treatable diseases.

From The Economist:

A big obstacle to eradicating leprosy is the long delay between its onset and detection. It usually takes three to five years before the symptoms show up. In some cases the incubation period from infection to disease can be as long as 20 years. Leprosy attacks the skin and nerves, leaving behind scaly patches on the body. It looks like a skin disorder and can be easily misdiagnosed. Since many medical colleges do not stock infected skin smears, most doctors are not qualified to recognise it early on.

Eradication of leprosy would be a formidable task. Getting rid of other diseases (such as tuberculosis and malaria) would be a higher priority for most countries, since they kill huge numbers of people. Leprosy does not.

On a brighter note, the article points out that efforts to reduce the cases of leprosy and detect the disease earlier are still underway.

Previously: Leprosy in the modern worldAll in the family: Uncovering the genetic history of the world’s most lethal pathogensImage of the Week: Leprosy bacteria and interferon-beta and Tropical disease treatments need more randomized, controlled trials, say Stanford researchers

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