Eight indigenous people have been found to be suffering from leprosy in Palawan, local health officials have revealed.
The Palawan Provincial Health Office has confirmed the cases among tribespeople in Rizal town, which is about 180 miles south of the provincial capital Puerto Princesa.
Health officer Dr Mary Ann Navarro said the leprosy cases were discovered during an awareness campaign on leprosy and other skin diseases.
“After subjecting 28 patients in skin-slit smear, eight tested positive for leprosy,” she said.
Because the affected people, who belong to the Palaw’an tribe, live so far from the health clinic, Dr Navarro said their diagnosis had come late.
For this reason, she added, the awareness campaign is to be extended to other mountain tribes in the province.
“We’re not singling them out as the only vulnerable group to this disease. In fact, anyone can have leprosy,” she said.
She also stressed that there is no longer any need to isolate lepers in colonies, such as the now-closed Culion Leprosarium in northern Palawan, and that sufferers do not pose a danger to public health.
Dr Navarro said leprosy is curable with multi-drug therapy treatment lasting from one year to 18 months.
Globally, the elimination of leprosy as a ‘public health problem’ – defined by the World Health Organisation as a registered prevalence of less than one case per 10,000 people – was achieved in 2000. More than 16 million leprosy patients have been treated over the past 20 years.
While leprosy is an infectious disease, Dr Navarro said it’s not particularly contagious as it takes time before it can infect other individuals.
“It takes long exposure, close contact with the affected individual before you can contract the disease,” she added.
Dr Navarro advised people to immediately seek medical help if they spot leprosy’s main symptoms, such as “disfiguring skin sores, lumps, or bumps that do not go away after several weeks or months”.