Leprosy: An Ancient Disease That Scientists Can’t Solve

Leprosy: An Ancient Disease That Scientists Can’t Solve

If an effective rapid diagnostic test were available – one that is non-invasive and effective, many of these missing cases and close contacts of the patients could be diagnosed, without the need for general prescriptions for rifampicin to potentially healthy individuals. The good news is that these diagnostic tests are currently in development – although they may not be available for some time.

In order to study the disease and its progression and to develop diagnostic tests, scientists often need injections M. leprosy in armadillostechnique which was first attempted in 1971. “The fact that we cannot culture [grow] This bacterium so easily in laboratory conditions is another factor hindering the progress of the development of these tests,” says Sunkara.

New horizons

since 2000 Novartis Foundation has partnered with the WHO, providing drugs globally for multidrug therapy free of charge. In February 2022, they entered into a partnership with Fiocruz for the study which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to speed up leprosy diagnosis. “I call it applying cutting-edge technology to an ancient disease,” says Sunkara.

There are at least 20-30 other skin diseases that manifest as white patches on the skin, says Sunkara. By using an artificial intelligence algorithm to analyze how light reflects differently from the surface of each skin disease, it is possible to identify cases of leprosy, distinguishing them from other similar conditions with far greater accuracy. Their study, published in Lancet Regional Health, determined an accuracy of 90% – but with 1,229 skin images, the dataset is currently small. If it succeeds on a larger scale, it could one day be a useful tool for speeding up diagnosis and treatment.

A constant stigma

Although modern advances in the treatment and diagnosis of leprosy have changed the lives of many patients, there is one problem that has never gone away: relentless discrimination.

“Leprosy remains a deeply rooted human rights issue,” says Alice Cruz, Ph.D UN Special Rapporteur on eliminating discrimination against people with leprosy, a role she has held since November 2017. There are more than a hundred laws that discriminate against people with leprosy around the world, creating a strong stigma that can act as a barrier to treatment, she says.

In some countries it is leprosy grounds for divorce. In India this was the case until the law were changed in 2019. Many people affected by the disease still struggle to find work, and the disease can make it difficult for them to access health care and education.

“States should do everything in their power to abolish discriminatory laws and establish policies that can guarantee the economic and social rights of people suffering from leprosy,” says Cruz. “In the future, we should ask ourselves: are our health systems working to provide full accessibility to people affected by leprosy? This is because leprosy is much more than a disease, it has become a label that dehumanizes people affected by it.”

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