In 2013, more than 33,000 new cases were reported in 24 countries of the region, the vast majority of them in Brazil

Washington, D.C., 30 January 2015 (PAHO/WHO) The number of new leprosy cases in the Americas fell by 36.9% between 2003 and 2013—from 52,435 to 33,084, —according to the latest data of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Nearly 94% of these cases were reported from Brazil. The proportion of people with leprosy declined 54.2% at the regional level during the same period, from 0.72 to 0.33 cases per 10,000 inhabitants.

Leprosy is present in 24 of 35 countries of the Americas. But all countries except Brazil have eliminated the disease as public health problem at the national level (less than 1 case per 10,000 inhabitants). Eighteen countries have also reached that goal at the subnational level, that is, in all their states, departments or provinces. Five countries still have states, departments or provinces where the rate exceeds 1 case in 10,000. 

"The countries have achieved major reductions in leprosy, but protecting these achievements and advancing even more is a major challenge," said Marcos Espinal, Director of PAHO/WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis. "We need to make sure leprosy remains on countries' public health agendas until it is eliminated." 

With support from PAHO/WHO, countries have been implementing a leprosy strategy that seeks to expand access to early diagnosis by integrating leprosy services into primary health care. The strategy also includes active case-finding to ensure early detection, and cost-free treatment with multidrug therapy (MDT). MDT is donated by Novartis laboratories, through PAHO/WHO, to countries' national leprosy control programs. 

Leprosy is chronic bacterial infection that affects mainly the skin, peripheral nerves, eyes, and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract. Early detection dramatically reduces the risks of deformities and disability in patients. 

"To advance even more toward elimination, we also need to eliminate stigma and discrimination, following the principles and guidelines of the United Nations Human Rights Council," said Santiago Nicholls, PAHO/WHO's top expert on leprosy. Reducing stigma makes it less likely that patients will avoid seeking medical care. 

Countries have continued to work toward achieving or to consolidating their elimination of leprosy. In 2013 and 2014, Brazil stepped up its efforts by implementing an innovative strategy that integrates active leprosy case-finding into deworming efforts for school children. 

World Leprosy Day is observed annually on the last Sunday in January to raise awareness of the disease and reduce stigma against those who suffer from it. 

PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.