LEPROSY, a chronic, infectious disease, is caused by a bacillus that affects the
skin, eyes, peripheral nerves, and mucosa of the upper respiratory tract.
Spread through close contact with an infected person, the leprosy bacilli are generally
killed by the body's natural immune responses after exposure.
Only about 5 percent of those people exposed to the leprosy bacillus develop symptoms
of the disease - after a three-to-five-year incubation period.
Leprosy has been a medical scourge throughout recorded history. The first effective
treatment became available in the 1940s, but the bacilli eventually became resistant
to the drug therapy.
In the early 1980s an inexpensive, highly effective multi-drug therapy was introduced
and now there is real hope that leprosy will one day be eradicated.
In 1984 the Cambodian Ministry of Health established the National Leprosy Elimination
Program, and by 1996 it had nearly achieved nationwide coverage.
With the prevalency of leprosy decreasing, the program will now put more focus on
treatment and rehabilitation programs for those disabled by the disease.