Objective To investigate the role of social stigma as a determinant for leprosy elimination in a leprosy endemic region of Cameroon.
Methods Focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and structured questionnaires were used to investigate leprosy social stigma among lepers, their contacts and a control group consisting of patients attending a health facility for reasons other than leprosy. Informed consent was sought and gained before the commencement of the study.
Results Focus group discussions and indepth interviews identified three types of stigma: lack of self-esteem, tribal stigma and complete rejection by society. From the 480 structured questionnaires administered, there were overall positive attitudes to lepers among the study population and within the divisions (p=0.0). The proportion of participants that felt sympathetic with deformed lepers was 78.1% (95% CI 74.4% to 81.8%) from a total of 480. 399 (83.1%) respondents indicated that they could share a meal or drink at the same table with a deformed leper (95% CI 79.7% to 86.5%). 403 (83.9%) [95% CI 80.7% to 87.3%] participants indicated that they could have a handshake and embrace a deformed leper. A total of 85.2% (95.0% CI 81.9% to 88.4%) participants affirmed that they could move with a deformed leper to the market or church. 71.5% (95.0% CI 67.5% to 75.5%) participants stated that they could offer a job to a deformed leper.
Conclusion The high proportion of positive attitudes among the participants and in different divisions is a positive indicator that the elimination of leprosy social stigma is progressing in the right direction.
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