KARACHI, Feb 1: Leprosy, according to the World Health Organization's standards, has been controlled in the country, the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre chief said on Sunday.

The MALC chief and the federal adviser on leprosy, Dr Ruth Pfau, was speaking at a function organized in connection with the 51st Leprosy Day. She said though leprosy had been controlled a limited number of patients were still being detected in various parts of the country.

She said that the disease had an unusually long incubation period of 40 years. The disease could still be hidden here, she said, and added that it could stage a come back within 40 years if efforts being made were discontinued or slowed down.

The German doctor, who has been working with the MALC for over four decades, said that if no new case was detected for 40 years only then one could safely say that the disease had been eliminated from the country. Considering the long incubation period, she said, the MALC had targeted 2075 for elimination of the disease. Till then, she added, struggle should be continued.

About the incubation period, she quoted the example of Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas. She said that the disease had been effectively controlled in Azad Kashmir and certain parts of the Northern Areas many years back. However, the MALC staff could not effectively and extensively carry out its duties in the area due to security reasons during the last decade. This resulted in the come back of leprosy, as many new cases were detected in the areas when the MALC staff went there. She said that efforts had been enhanced for an early control of the disease and hopefully it would be checked soon.

The septuagenarian doctor said that after controlling the deformative disease, the MALC had started to work on the tuberculosis and eye care, and these too would soon be brought under control.

Former chief justice of the country Justice (retd) Sajjad Ali Shah said that it was unfortunate that the government spent only around two per cent of its budget on health and education sectors, which showed that these were somewhere at the bottom of the priority list. For the progress of a nation, he said, adequate funds for health and education sectors was a pre- requisite.

Sajjad Ali Shah said the country had been fortunate that Dr Ruth Pfau, while going to India over four decades ago, decided to stay here and help the ailing leprosy patients. He said that she proved that if a person had a commitment and had been assisted by a sincere and hardworking team one could achieve any goal. Though it took four decades the disease had been controlled at last, he added.

He said that the services of Dr Ruth Pfau for Pakistan were comparable to the services of Mother Teressa for the ailing people of India. Both these ladies had done unmatchable service for the people of the subcontinent, he added.

Earlier, Dr Ashfaq A. Khan of the MALC said that owing to the latest technological advancements, research and formulation of new drugs leprosy had now become a curable disease.

With the introduction of the multi-drug therapy (MDT), he said, the disease had been controlled. Since then efforts were being made to eliminate the disease from the country, he added.

Dr Ashfaq said that besides the treatment, attitude of the people towards the patients also played an important role. He stressed that people having any doubt about the disease should immediately bring the patient to the hospital. He said that sooner the patient was brought to the hospital brighter were the chances of his/ her recovery.

He said that the chances of disfigurement or complications of the diseases could increase if the patients were not brought to hospital for treatment soon. He said it was important that society in general and relatives in particular should not disown the patients as they needed love and care of the near and dear ones more when they were infected with the disease, during the treatment and afterwards.

The doctor said that around one million people had active disease and were in need of chemotherapy, while many more millions remained affected through its aftermaths like disability and irrational social discrimination.

Giving some statistics, he said that the country had 50,970 registered leprosy patients, majority of them cured by Jan 1, 2004. He said that 670 new cases - 304 in Karachi, 117 in rest of the province, 73 in NWFP - were found in the country during 2003. The MALC continued to look around for an estimated number of 20,000 hidden cases.

Giving a brief resume of the MALC, he said that anti-leprosy programme was started by a few Christian missionaries in a slum off the McLeod Road in mid 1950s. In early 1960s, it moved to its present location in Saddar and it had been working there for the last four decades, he said.

The programme had also expanded, as at present it had an 80- bed hospital, training institute, over 175 centres, mobile teams and services all over the country, he added.

Dr Ashfaq said that the bulk of the MALC donation came from the German Leprosy Relief Association while other donors include the Christoffel Blinden-mission (CBM), the Misereor of Germany, the Misso of Austria, the Sasakawa Foundation of Japan, the St. Francis Leprosy Guild of the UK. Peria Swami, Dr Zia, Fatima Suriya Bajiya, Agha Masood, Hussain Shaheed Mirza and others also spoke at the function. A 30-minute documentary on Dr Ruth Pfau, made by Baqar Zaidi, was also screened on the occasion.

Staff members - including Marks Rehmat, M. Hussain Sultan, Sharif Pathan, Abdul Husain, Sharif Punjabi, Phelomena Blazi, Pir Ali, M. Shahid, Abdul Lateef, Mustafa Khan, Dr Bano Mama, and others - who had completed over 25 years with the MALC were given gold medals and awards. Students of the Happy Home School presented a tableau conveying the message that the dreadful and deformative disease had become curable.



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