British Leprosy Relief Association
Leprosy in Mpumalanga Province, South Africa—eliminated or hidden?
aCommunicable Disease Control, Mpumalanga Department of Health, Post Bag X11285, Nelspruit, 1200, South Africa
bThe Leprosy Mission of South Africa, Post. Bag 6, Lyndhurst, 2106, South Africa
cErmelo District Health Office, Post Bag X1020, Bethal, 2510, South Africa
dSchool of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia, 4811
Correspondence to: Associate Professor David N. Durrheim, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, 4811, Australia (e-mail: David.Durrheim@jcu.edu.au)
In South Africa, leprosy has been a notifiable condition since 1921. Although the WHO elimination target of less than one case per 10,000 population has been achieved at country level, the distribution of leprosy in the country is distinctly heterogeneous, with a prominent ‘leprosy belt’ of greater prevalence stretching across Mpumalanga Province into northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. The highest prevalence in this ‘belt’ has historically been in Ermelo District. Recent trends of few newly detected leprosy patients in this district raised concerns that health system changes may have resulted in failure to detect leprosy cases. Thus a large-scale community awareness campaign was conducted followed by an intensively advertised screening programme of 3-month duration at schools and central gathering points in villages and farms from 1 June to 31 August 2000. One thousand one hundred and seventy-seven people presented for clinical screening at designated points, while 790 scholars were screened at schools and an additional 1433 people were screened at their homes by the field team. Forty-four people with skin or nervous system lesions compatible with leprosy were referred for specialized assessment and biopsy where indicated. Four new leprosy patients were diagnosed, including an elderly lady with pronounced disability. Two of these patients had prior contact with the health service due to dermatological manifestations of leprosy without diagnosis being made. All patients provided a history of close prolonged contact with known leprosy patients. Ongoing intense tracing and follow-up of close contacts of proven leprosy cases may be a more efficient method of detecting leprosy cases in areas with relatively stable populations that have accomplished ‘leprosy elimination’, than resource intensive community surveys.