Bhubaneswar, Jan 30: With glaring neglect of the Odisha Health Department and several senior bureaucrats, leprosy health care in the state is passing through tough times. At a time when the deformity rates and rate of new leprosy infections are rising, massive vacancy of specialized health workers and government neglect are adding to the woes of the leprosy patients.
Large number of vacancies of specialized trained staff mandated to cater to the needs of leprosy patients and lack of budgetary allocation are some of the prime reasons why the leprosy health care in the state is ailing. On the other hand several times the IAS officers sitting as Collectors in several districts fail to utilize the funds meant for the welfare of leprosy patients.
In a recent case, the state department of Social Security and Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (SSEPD) had written their fourth reminder in one single year requesting the Khurda Collector to spend the leprosy scheme funds. It needed the intervention of the Odisha Chief Secretary later to pursue the IAS officer to spend the funds on which he was sitting for long.
Data claims that massive vacancies are marring the treatment prospects in the state. As per data assessed by theblink.in, the state government in 2004 allowed 404 posts of Para-Medical Workers (PMW) under the National Leprosy Eradication Mission (NLEM) who are trained paramedics mandated to screen, treat and rehabilitee the leprosy patients. Health Ministry later in May 2014 also sanctioned 184 additional PMW posts to target leprosy. However government data claims there are around 350 such posts lying vacant in the state.
“Such mammoth shortage of specialized para medic staff has been hampering the whole leprosy healthcare in the state. It has led to delayed diagnosis, lack of timely medical intervention. We have data which hint that due to shortage of staff and government apathy we are now seeing more new cases of infections and spiked deformity cases among the patients,” said” Bhagwan Pradhan, Life Member of Hind Kusta Nivaran Mahasangha (HKNM) said.
The state had in 2006-2007 went ahead and declared Odisha as ‘leprosy free’. It was declared such as per the definition of World Health Organisation (WHO) which claims that less than 1 case per 10000 of population could be used for declaring the region leprosy free. However after the declaration the issue cascaded. Soon there were lesser PMWs and least government monitoring. Now as a result we are seeing amplified new cases, infectious leprosy cases and disability have spiked.
Statistics claim that the total annual new leprosy cases detected in 2006-07 were 5,088 which almost doubled in 2013-14 to 10,645 and had been reaching close to 10,000 per year since then. What made worse was the increased deformity rate in the last one decade, hinting at lack of timely treatment and screening.
Deformity rate among the leprosy patients was reported to be 1.83 per cent in 2006-2007 but it started increasing since then and notched upto 11.36 per cent in 2014-15 and the situation remained stagnant and alarming but the state seemed to hardly tackle the issue of massive vacancy of staff taking care of leprosy cases.
Many people working with the leprosy patients claim that even the total number of cases of leprosy in the state is far higher than what is reported in the government documents. Some activists also alleged that government officials are deliberately trying to under report the new detected cases of leprosy.