REPORT from HYDERABAD: Summary of 21st International Leprosy Congress held in Hyderabad, India

The 21st International Leprosy Congress (ILC), which was organized around the theme “Early Diagnosis – Better Knowledge – Improved Care,” was held in Hyderabad, India, Nov. 9-11, 2022. Taking place in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the triennial gathering of key stakeholders adopted a hybrid format to encourage participation regardless of ability to travel. Of the total number of 480 papers, 300 were presented in person and 180 were presented virtually. In addition, 400 e-posters were shared either on LCD monitors at the venue or on the virtual platform. 

On the theme of “Early Diagnosis,” a number of sessions looked at possibilities for an early diagnostic test for leprosy. Concerning “Better Knowledge,” advances in molecular biology and genome sequencing that were presented have implications for drug testing and fieldwork. On the subject of “Improved Care,” a convincing case was made for there to be a safer multidrug therapy regimen that has fewer side effects. “Patients have a human right to be treated with less toxic drugs,” said Professor Diana Lockwood in her plenary presentation. 

The role artificial intelligence can play in aiding diagnosis — “alongside humans, not replacing humans” — was discussed, as was the role persons affected by leprosy can play in leprosy services, from counseling the newly diagnosed and allaying their fears to being a good companion during treatment and offering support and advice during reaction. 

A session on funding for leprosy research called for connecting funders to researchers and revealed that a leprosy vaccine is now a priority for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Representing the host nation, Dr. Anil Kumar laid out India’s road map to zero leprosy, and noted that “a leprosy-free India would represent a milestone to achieving a leprosy-free world.” 

WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa gave the keynote address, telling Congress participants he was “proud to work with you on the goal of zero leprosy.”

Projects supported by Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative — ranging from innovative case finding to history preservation — featured in a number of sessions.

Conclusions and Recommendations from the 2nd Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, hosted by the Initiative as part of its “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign and held prior to the ILC, were read out on the opening day by Maya Ranaware, president of India’s Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL). 

The 22nd International Leprosy Congress will convene in Bali, Indonesia, in 2025.  

Maya Ranavare, president of India’s Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL), reading the Conclusions and Recommendations of the 2nd Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease at the inaugural function of the 21st International Leprosy Congress in Hyderabad (Nov. 9, 2022).

Guests of honor on stage during the “Release of books” portion of the 21st International Leprosy Congress’s inaugural function (Nov. 9, 2022).