22 August 2022 · Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy

Leaders from Cambodia’s National Leprosy Programme reflect on their new strategic plan

Dr. Lay Sambath is the Chief Information Officer of the National Programme for Leprosy Control (NLEP) and Director of the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control (CENAT). Mr. So Visal is a staff member of Cambodia’s National Leprosy Programme and a physical therapist.

What will the Zero Leprosy Action Plan help Cambodia achieve?

Mr. So Visal: Since 2015, most leprosy activities have been supported by partner organizations. The government has limited funds for leprosy activities. This partnership with GPZL has been important in revitalizing the program to reach the last mile in leprosy elimination in Cambodia. The Zero Leprosy Action Plan is evidence that we can show to the Ministry of Health (MoH). We have a plan to implement activities that will eliminate leprosy. It helps us draw attention toward the goal of ending leprosy in Cambodia and provides direction for the National Leprosy Programme, known as NLEP. The plan also shows the strengths and weaknesses of NLEP so that we can better implement the activities. 

Dr. Sambath: The creation of Cambodia’s Zero Leprosy Action Plan involved GPZL, WHO, and many other partners. This collaboration is good for Cambodia. Previously, NLEP has found it challenging to receive commitments from the higher levels of government. Now we can submit this strategic plan to receive funding. 

What challenges were identified in the country review? How are those challenges addressed in the Zero Leprosy Roadmap and Action Plan? 

Mr. So Visal: Challenges include a historically limited political commitment to support national leprosy programming, low awareness of leprosy among people living in remote areas and limited collaboration between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs. The leprosy rehabilitation center, which is incomplete, is an example of this need for collaboration between ministries. We also saw disparities in how different populations are affected by leprosy, including migrants, minorities, and women. We are concentrating on improving case detection among these populations. That is a priority of our Zero Leprosy Roadmap.

Dr. Sambath: Another challenge is staff limitations. Our program has been impacted by low budgets, COVID-19, and other factors over the past two-to-three years.

How did persons affected by leprosy contribute to the action plan?

Mr. So Visal: We invited Cambodia Leprosy Association members to the stakeholder meeting. We included persons affected by leprosy who have disabilities and those who are currently undergoing treatment. We asked them for comments and suggestions to inform the Zero Leprosy Roadmap and Action Plan. Many persons affected were interviewed to finalize the plans.

Dr. Sambath: Persons affected know a lot about the disease and can educate others on stigma and disability. When we work alongside persons affected, I think eliminating leprosy in Cambodia by 2030 is possible.

How is Cambodia making progress toward achieving zero leprosy?

Mr. So Visal: Currently, NLEP is preparing the Zero Leprosy Roadmap and Action Plan for the MoH to review and provide feedback. Then, a minister will be able to validate the documents. We hope that the plan will get the attention of the government and our partners so that we will have some resources to implement the plan. We hope that this will not only be the official plan for Cambodia but will also serve as an example for similar countries with low levels of leprosy endemicity. 

Dr. Sambath: We are making progress in gaining political commitment and support for the Zero Leprosy Action Plan. We have also progressed in how we collaborate with partners and persons affected in each activity.