A first-of-its-kind leprosy vaccine developed in India is to be launched on a pilot basis in five districts in Bihar and Gujarat. If it shows good results, the vaccination programme will be extended to other high-prevalence districts in the country, said Soumya Swaminathan, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research.
Dr Swaminathan was speaking at a National Awareness Convention on Leprosy organised in Chennai by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai, and Saksham, Nagpur.
The disease, caused by the bacteria mycobacterium leprae, affects around 1.25 lakh people every year in India. Sixty per cent of the world's leprosy patients are in India. The vaccine, called Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP), will be administered as a preventive measure to people living in close contact with those infected.
It was developed by the National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, and has been by approved by Drug Controller General of India and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S., she said.
Dr Swaminthan said trials had shown that the vaccine, if given to people in close contact with affected persons, could bring down cases by 60 per cent in three years. It expedited cure rates if given to people with skin lesions, she said.
Union health minister J P Nadda said the government had begun screening in 50 high prevalence districts.
A total of 7.5 crore people were screened out of which 5,000 had leprosy. The next phase will cover 163 districts including Erode.
At another event later in the day, Dr Swaminathan spoke about a book that is in the works on the nutritive value of Indian foods. She was speaking ahead of the launch of 'Diabetes in Women World Wide Awareness, Advocacy and Action Strategies' (DIWWWAAAS), an initiative on women's health and diabetes.
''The National Institute of Nutrition does regular dietary surveys and the guidelines for nutrition for Indians have been updated. They will recommend the number of calories per day, based on sex, height, weight and level of activity. There is also an analysis of diet and what you get from different types of Indian food. The book on the nutritive value of foods will cover foods from across India,'' she said.
She also said that since the South Asian genome was predisposed to metabolic syndrome, a lot more research was needed on what happens during foetal life -- the epigentic changes that make it develop a particular way. ''Science and research has a big role to play. The focus should be on very early in life and modifiable factors should be figured out,'' she said. Measures such as taxes on sugared drinks, salt and transfats could be considered, along with good labelling practices.
Prabhakaran Dorairaj, vice president, Public Health Foundation of India, spoke about the importance of focusing on women's health, as a bias in the health system did not take into account differing symptoms women had, for instance, in heart attacks, leading to delays in diagnosis and poorer outcomes.