GENEVA, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- People affected by leprosy continue to suffer discrimination and lack of access to medical care, a newly appointed UN human rights expert said Thursday.
Special Rapporteur Alice Cruz, in a statement to mark World Leprosy Day on Jan. 28, cited the latest statistics that show more than 200,000 new leprosy cases a year.
"This level of serious disability is alarming and completely unnecessary," said Cruz who explained that the disease can be cured.
"The fact that this is still happening in 2018 shows that there are delays in diagnosis and lack of access to high-quality treatment. Children are among those suffering unnecessarily," she asserted.
Tackling social vulnerability is a key to reducing the transmission and prevalence of the disease, she said.
Leprosy remains a neglected disease, with the highest number of cases in India, Brazil and Indonesia.
Cruz said, "In countries where leprosy is endemic, it is associated with social inequities and mainly affects poorer communities."
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified 22 priority countries where action is needed, including Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Figures for 2016 show that 214,783 new cases of leprosy were reported, including 12,437 where people had suffered serious disabilities.
"The disease can be easily cured with multi-drug therapy if it is detected and treated early enough. Left untreated, it can cause severe immunological reactions that lead to disability and chronic pain."
Cruz said discrimination is perpetuating people's unnecessary suffering and it was essential to tackle the root causes.
"Too many people with leprosy remain trapped in a never-ending cycle of discrimination and disability," she said.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium lepra that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves says the UN.
The disease has a long incubation period and is not highly infectious and most persons who are in contact with leprosy do not contract it.