Integration of leprosy services into the General Health Service in Sri Lanka: overcoming challenges to implementation in a remote district

WHO South East Asia J Public Health. Jan-Mar 2013;2(1):63-68. doi: 10.4103/2224-3151.115846.

Abstract

Sri Lanka took a policy decision to integrate leprosy services into the general health services (GHS) in 1999. This paper aims to summarize the emergence of new, specific challenges and how they were overcome during the integration of leprosy services to the GHS in a remote, leprosy endemic district in Sri Lanka. In this article, the regional epidemiologist as the team leader describes the principles used for transition to an effective integrated model of leprosy services from a centralized leprosy control model in the district. In addition, rationale for integration is viewed from the epidemiological and operational perspectives. National and district leprosy epidemiological data from secondary sources are also reviewed for corroborating the effectiveness of integration. Challenges surfaced were mainly related to the transfer of ownership of the programme, selection of appropriate service providing institutions easily accessible to clients, sustainability of leprosy services at the GHS, ensuring participation of all stakeholders in capacity building programmes and co-ordination of patient care in the absence of a dermatologist in the district. An empowered district team leader with specified roles and responsibilities, his sound technical and managerial know how and ability to translate 'team work' concept to practice were found to be essential for successful implementation of integration. Decision-making powers at the district level and flexibility to introduce new, area-specific changes to the centrally prepared core activities of integration were also vital to overcome locally surfaced challenges.