An assessment of the reported impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on leprosy services using an online survey of practitioners in leprosy referral centres.
BACKGROUND: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to governments implementing a variety of public health measures to control transmission and has affected health services. Leprosy is a communicable neglected tropical disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae and is an important health problem in low- and middle-income countries. The natural history of leprosy means that affected individuals need long-term follow-up. The measures recommended to reduce transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) can create barriers to health services. We evaluated the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic response on leprosy services and disease management.
METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional online survey with healthcare professionals in leprosy referral centres.
RESULTS: Eighty percent of leprosy diagnostic services were reduced. All respondents reported that multidrug therapy (MDT) was available but two reported a reduced stock. Clinicians used alternative strategies such as telephone consultations to maintain contact with patients. However, patients were not able to travel to the referral centres.
DISCUSSION: This study highlights the effects of the initial phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on leprosy services in a range of leprosy-endemic countries. Many services remained open, providing leprosy diagnosis, MDT and leprosy reaction medications. Centres developed innovative measures to counter the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.