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PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF COMMUNICABLE DISEASES AND HEALTH CARE PRACTICES: THE CASE OF LEPROSY IN BAHIR DAR CITY, NORTHWEST ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1207-08]
Communicable or infectious diseases constitute the leading causes of health and health related problems in Ethiopia. From infectious diseases, leprosy belongs to the category of chronic contagious disease which has been known as a major public health problem for more than half a century. In Ethiopia, leprosy is believed to have been eliminated. However, the new incidence of leprosy in eighty-seven districts in the Amhara region is an issue that calls for special attention. Health care practices or research on leprosy are largely found under the sphere of clinically based research. Still, these research have limitations in giving due emphasis for emic perspectives. The main objective of this study is, thus, to investigate public perceptions of leprosy and health care practices in Bahir Dar city. To this effect, a cross sectional case study design has been used through employing qualitative approach. Purposive sampling technique was used to select participants. The major methods of data collection were systematic observation, unstructured interview and focus group discussion. Interviews and group discussions were conducted with thirty-seven individuals from the public, persons affected by leprosy and experts who are working on the issue at hand. The study reveals that individuals are largely aware of leprosy from family, relatives and friends in their locality. In addition, mass media and interpersonal communication are sources of information. Marriage and living with persons affected by leprosy are considered causes and agents of transmission of leprosy. Moreover, the cause of leprosy is associated with elephantiasis through the account of both disease complications. In general, leprosy is still perceived as a genetic disease. In fact, the treatment preference of leprosy patients is not only dependent on illness causation beliefs; social responses of the community highly influence treatment seeking behaviors of the patients. Health care practices to manage leprosy have been carried out by such organizations as Bahir Dar city health department, GLRA and Heal TB. Stigma, discrimination, and less attention given to the role of the community, the absence of a separate rehabilitation center and the general notion held to be leprosy is reduced. Major constraints for the effectiveness of leprosy control are less attention is given to control leprosy and its social dimensions are not adequate. In conclusion, sociocultural factors bent public knowledge of the causes, transmission and treatment of leprosy, but the healthcare practice has not been adjusted in line with the sociocultural beliefs of the public.