GPZL Secretariat Director discusses leprosy prevalence and prevention on Voice of America

2 March, 2021 | Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy

GPZL Secretariat Director, Bill Gallo, sat down with Linord Moudou, host of Voice of America’s Healthy Living series, to discuss leprosy prevalence and the new path toward prevention. The segment, “Fear and Loathing of Leprosy,” opens with perspectives of persons affected by leprosy in Ethiopia. They share their experiences with symptoms, treatment, discrimination, stigma, and disability.

Linord Moudou asks Bill Gallo about why this ancient disease persists. “When we talk about leprosy, we have to keep in mind poverty,” he says. “Leprosy impacts those who are living in poverty the most.”

Persons affected by leprosy experience stigma because many people mistake the disease to be highly contagious. Gallo stresses that leprosy is not highly contagious, and it is curable. “It’s a bacterial infection, and since the 1980s it has been treated with a highly effective antibiotic regimen that’s provided for free by Novartis Pharmaceuticals. If it’s caught early, it doesn’t lead to any long-term disability.”

The segment also explores a promising new way to end leprosy transmission. 

“For the first time, we can prevent new cases of leprosy through a single dose of an antibiotic called rifampicin,” says Gallo. “We call this PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis. PEP has the opportunity to be a real game-changer in the fight against leprosy. GPZL has been working with countries and other partners to scale up activities for PEP.”

To conclude, the Healthy Living segment explores the social implications of the disease. Gallo explains that treatment alone will not bring us to zero leprosy. “It’s really poverty, stigma, and discrimination that remain great challenges, and they present barriers to adequate treatment and care,” he says. 

The final takeaway? “Leprosy is curable and treatment is free,” says Gallo, “but there are still 5 million people living with leprosy-related disability and stigma even after they’ve been cured. We need social interventions in addition to medical interventions to reach zero leprosy.”