Campaign to eradicate leprosy focuses on backward province

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 1997, 12:00am

New cases of leprosy have been reported in one of the poorest provinces but officials have vowed to eradicate the dreaded disease by next year.

Disease experts in the northern province of Thai Nguyen reported 12 new cases in a massive sweep of around 185,000 people living in isolated villages deep in the mountains.

The discovery marked the first new cases for some time but the experts believe 70 per cent of mountain villages are now free of the disease. They are now launching an anti-leprosy propaganda campaign in schools while offering chemotherapy treatment for sufferers.

Provinces such as Thai Nguyen, landlocked and with little good farmland where many people live traditional tribal lifestyles, are swinging increasingly into focus as the Communist Party leadership seeks to narrow gaps between the booming cities and poor countryside, where most people live.

Despite 10 years of reforms and economic growth, the United Nations Development Programme has warned that more must be done to narrow the gaps.

Recent UN figures show some 37 million people - just under half of the population - are currently living beneath the poverty line.

The programme has urged urgent sweeping reforms to health care in rural areas, warning that greater attention must be paid to improving sanitation and clean water.