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By Ennio Kuble

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 12, 1998 - The National)---The Health Department has intensified its programs to make PNG a leprosy-free country by the year 2000.

With 15 months to go before PNG is given the 'no leprosy country' status by the World Health Organization (WHO), Health Minister Ludger Mond told the 7th Partnership Conference on the National Leprosy Elimination Program (NLEP) that the program will be intensified to flush out hidden cases in the country.

Ten provinces, which are the five Highlands provinces and Northern, Manus, West New Britain and Morobe, will have to work hard in the next 15 months to cut down on their leprosy cases.

In the PNG traditional setting a leper is no longer considered a member of the community and is forced to live in isolation.

He said particular emphasis will be on supervision, improvements in case holding and case finding, and defaulter actions.

New strategies such as the Special Action Program on Elimination of Leprosy (SAPEL) and the Leprosy Elimination Program (LEC) will be increased in the high prevalence provinces, he said.

Mr. Mond said he still needs the support of partner organizations such as WHO, the International Leprosy Organization (ILO), the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation of Japan and Leprosy Mission International.

These organizations have helped with a vast amount of resources, funds and expertise in the last 34 years that saw leprosy cases drop from a high of 24,000 cases to 1,000 as of this month.

Mr. Mond commended the partners and health workers for going into the unknown areas of the country to fight the disease.

He said the administration of Multi-Drug-Therapy (MDT) had proven successful.

He said MDT not only killed the leprosy bacteria from three different angles but also ensured that the bacteria developed no resistance to any one drug.

A partner in the program, Dr. Yo Yuasa, said he was happy to hear of the progress of NLEP, the personal interest Mr. Mond has shown, and the Government's support to eradicate leprosy in the country.

WHO country representative, Dr. Paul Chen, said progress made in controlling the disease is successful in every country of the world.

Dr. Chen said leprosy is a disease that can be eliminated by sustained efforts and good understanding of the community.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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