The decline of leprosy in the Republic of Korea; patterns and trends 1977-2013.

01 Dec 2015
Lee J, Kim JP, Nishikiori N, Fine PE

BACKGROUND: Though the World Health Organization declared the 'elimination of leprosy as public health problem' in 2000, the disease remains endemic in many countries. Current trends in incidence of infection and disease are unclear.

METHODS: Data on leprosy prevalence between 1977-2013 and data on new leprosy cases detected in the Republic of Korea between 1989-2013 were analysed by age, sex, clinical types, mode of detection, family history, disability grading and geographical distribution.

RESULTS: Both prevalence and incidence have declined greatly. There has been a shift to an increased proportion of multibacillary disease, and older age groups, consistent with a dramatic decrease in infection transmission in recent decades. An increase in proportion of cases with family history of disease is consistent with these declines. There is evidence that declines in infection and disease have been greater in the north of the country, as revealed in patterns by place of birth over time. Cases in immigrants now form a substantial proportion of leprosy disease in the Republic of Korea.

CONCLUSIONS: Leprosy has declined dramatically in the Republic of Korea in recent decades, and transmission of M. leprae may have effectively stopped. There remains a burden of care for individuals whose disease developed in the past, and there may be some additional newly detected cases among immigrants and among older individuals who acquired autochthonous infections decades ago.