How Aberdeen is helping to fight the Scourge of Leprosy

How Aberdeen is helping to fight the Scourge of Leprosy

The Principal Investigators of an International Research programme funded by the European Commission will be meeting at the University of Aberdeen on 19 and 20 January to discuss applying the latest medical technologies to an age old problem.

The Partners in the project, which is being co-ordinated by Professor Cairns Smith of the University of Aberdeen , come from India, Ethiopia, Norway, The Netherlands as well as the UK.

There have been dramatic changes to global leprosy situation over the last 5 years with the number of registered patients falling from over 5 million to less than one million. This has been achieved by the wide spread use of a new short course multi-drug treatment (MDT) which is now standard treatment. This MDT regimen has proved highly acceptable to patients and once detected leprosy can be effectively treated. However despite this dramatic improvement, over the last ten tears the number of new cases being detected annually. Professor Smith is the chairman of the World health Organisation’s Task Force which monitors the global leprosy situation where at present more than one new patient is diagnosed every minute of the day.

The main problem is that the germ, Mycobacterium Leprae, which causes leprosy cannot be grown in the laboratory, which is why it has been so difficult until now to study disease transmission. recently a new research method has been developed called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) which can identify very small numbers of bacillus and will help in studying the transmission of infection in endemic countries. Dr Murdo Macdonald has been involved in setting up these new techniques in laboratories in India and Ethiopia. So far over 1000 people have been recruited to the study and Dr Vijay Edward, Director of the Leprosy Mission Research Centre at Miraj in India commented on the success of the programme and the willingness of the people to participate.

This European Commission funded programme also aims at stimulating collaboration between Europe and developing countries and in the exchange of expertise. Professor Smith and the Public Health Department of the Medical School is also developing collaborative research with centres in Nepal and Bangladesh.

The timing of the research meeting coincides with World Leprosy Day on Sunday 25 January which is celebrated every year on the anniversary of the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. During this many activities will take place to try to heighten the awareness of people around the world to the plight of sufferer’s of this once dreaded disease. Today leprosy is curable if detected early and prompt treatment is started.

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