THE Philippines remains to be the country with the most number of cases of leprosy in the world, Department of Health (DOH) officials said Saturday.

In promotion of the Leprosy Awareness Week set next week, officials said in 2006, the country ranked 15th among 18 countries that reported 1,000 or more new cases.

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In 2008, it ranked first among the 37 countries of the Western Pacific regions, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

DOH assistant secretary Paulyn-Jean Ubial said there were 3,338 cases registered in the country in 2008, with 2,373 as new cases.

Ubial said Davao Region is identified in the country as having high prevalence of leprosy.

Davao recorded a 1.44 per 10,000 population prevalence rate in 2008 as compared to the national data that registered only 0.35 per 10,000 population in 2008, Ubial said.

"Davao City with prevalence rate of 1.6, or 16 cases every 100,000 of the population, ranked second to Davao del Sur which has a prevalence rate of 1.9 leprosy cases or 19 cases every 100,000 people. In year 2009, there were 74 additional leprosy cases in Davao City," Ubial said.

Ubial, however, clarified that the number of recorded cases does not mean the illness has high communicable rate.

"It could be that it is only during this period that it was detected," Ubial said.

DOH-Davao Regional Director Teogenes Baluma said leprosy has an "incubation period" of three to five years but the bacilli can also remain dormant inside a person for up to 15 years.

"It won't be detected immediately after it is acquired," Baluma said.

"We are also reminding people that leprosy should not be something to cast people away. It is actually mildly communicable, it is not immediately contagious. People with leprosy should not be discriminated and should not receive stigma. It can be cured," Baluma said.

Doctors Carlos Pacheco and Rhodora Lacson, who are both dermatologists and leptologists, said leprosy is a disease caused by Mycobacterium Leprae. It's mode of transmission is by air droplet infection in which the bacilli lodges in the skin or mucus membranes such as in the nose and eyes.

"There are four components to work towards a leprosy-free area: 1) capability and capacity building of health workers; 2) massive campaign or awareness; 3) active case-finding or kilatis-kutis; and 4) treatment. All of these have been done, but there is a need to focus more on massive campaign for early detection and treatment," Pacheco said.

Lacson said "early detection leads to early cure and iwas deformities."

"It's good because now we give multiple drug treatment. When before we give one tablet, now it's three tablets. Early cases of leprosy can now be cured after six months, while late cases can be cured for 12 months. And we give the tablets for free. It's not in drugstores they have to go to regional hospitals and they will be treated for free," Lacson said.

Cured patients Leonardo Sameon and Virginia Bunal also shared to the press that the reason for the delay in treatment was their belief that the leprosy's manifestation were caused by "kulam" or black magic.

"The quack doctor said it was kulam so I was slightly delayed in seeking treatment from doctors," Bunal said in vernacular.

"It was good that the people who loved me supported me instead of shunning me. For people who have this sickness my advice is if you really want to get cured you have to help yourself and be brave to seek the right answers for your problem," she added. (JCZ)