January 25, 2008

Last Updated: 2008-01-24 18:01:33 -0400 (Reuters Health)

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is recording an annual average of more than 1,600 new leprosy cases and will spend $30 million this year to renovate leprosy villages which are home to thousands of people, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Those diagnosed with leprosy in China were once exiled forcibly to remote "leper colonies," a practice which ended in the 1980s when a hugely successful multidrug therapy was introduced.

The country now has just a little more than 6,000 sufferers, drastically down from the estimated 500,000 in 1949 when the Communists took power, the official Health News said.

"But every year there are still more than 1,600 new leprosy cases, and there are still people suffering relapses," the Health Ministry-run newspaper added.

There were about 100,000 survivors who had been permanently disfigured and some 20,000 lived in leprosy villages, it said.

The government had earmarked 220 million yuan ($30.42 million) this year to rebuild or relocate more than 100 of these villages, the report added.

The villages remain partly because the patients are unable to rebuild their lives after being institutionalized for decades.

Also known as Hanson’s disease, it is a curable bacterial infection caused by Mycobacterium leprae, which affects the skin and nerves, but its victims have long been ostracized by society worldwide.

($1=7.231 Yuan)

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