HC appoints panel to assess condition of leprosy patients in Odisha

Committee comprising senior advocates told to file report within two weeks

Fifteen years after Odisha declared itself a leprosy-free State, the Orissa High Court has appointed a three-member advocate committee to assess the living condition of leprosy patients and medical facilities available at leprosy colonies.

The committee comprising senior advocates Bibhu Prasad Tripathy, Gautam Mishra and Pami Rath has been asked to visit the colonies and file a ground situation within two weeks.

A Division Bench of Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice S. K. Panigrahi was hearing a public interest litigation filed by Bipin Bihari Pradhan, general secretary of Odisha Leprosy Welfare Federation, who had sought implementation of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP).

The petitioner had pointed out that while Odisha was quick to declare itself a leprosy-free State in 2006-07, it dismantled several posts of paramedical workers and field officers that earlier existed to deal with the situation.

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Mr. Pradhan submitted that “as per the official statistics in that year, it still had 5,038 leprosy affected persons. As of 2018-19, that number has grown to 10,465. It is stated that there are 77 leprosy colonies in a very poor condition. The leprosy-affected persons living there are in dire need of medical care and treatment and are deprived of opportunity of earning livelihood.”

In an affidavit, the State government had implicitly admitted that despite interventions through the NLEP and integrating it with the general health system, the incidence of leprosy had not gone down.

“Acknowledging that leprosy is an ‘iceberg disease’ having a long incubation period which varies from 5 to 10 years and may extend up to 30 years, it is admitted by the opposite parties (State government) that the survey of the affected communities since 2010-11 has resulted in increased detection of cases that were previously lying undetected,” the judgment says.

The petitioner had submitted that there was callous neglect by the State authorities to the medical and healthcare needs of leprosy patients as was evident from the fact that instead of a training programme of a minimum of four months for Leprosy Trained Paramedical Workers (LTPW), a three-day programme was devised to train Multi-Purpose Health Workers (MPHW) and two days’ training was given to Block Nodal Leprosy Worker (BNLW) to convert them into LTPWs.

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“It is pointed out that within three days the composition of the Multi Drug Treatment (MDT) cannot possibly be understood,” says the judgment.

The Division Bench directed the Director of Health Services, Odisha, to provide up-to-date statistics on the prevalence of leprosy, status of availability of treatment, beds, drugs (including MDT) at the various hospitals, and status of filling up of vacant posts of medical officers and staff.

The committee of advocates has been directed to ascertain the actual living conditions and medical facilities available to the inmates living there by interacting with inmates, leprosy workers and families of those affected with leprosy.

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