It’s World Vitiligo Day on 25 June. Vitiligo, also known as Leucoderma, is a skin disorder where the healthy cells in the body are affected. Referred to as white leprosy, Vitiligo or Leucoderma has several myths attached to it, which at times make those suffering from it victims of a social stigma.

To spread awareness about the treatments available and bust the myths, the Indian Association of Dermatologists Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) got together in New Delhi on 22 June and highlighted all facts and myths related to Vitiligo. With Leucoderma patients often complaining of depression, the IADVL members also spoke about the programmes being conducted to help them deal with it. The press meet was held at the Press Club of India.

IADVL is the world’s second largest association of dermatologists, with 1,00,00 members.

Experts of Indian Association of Dermatologists Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) addressing a press conference at Press Club of India in New Delhi on Friday.

On what causes Leucoderma, experts say when melanocytes in our body die off, this causes several white patches on our skin. It usually occurs in the areas exposed to sunlight but does not affect the daily activities of the person.

Vitilgo affects about 0.5% to 1% of the population worldwide, but its prevalence is 8.8% in India where considerable social stigma is attached to the disease, make the patient an outcast in society. It can start at any age but about half of those with vitiligo develop it before the age of 20, and about 95% before the age of 40.

‘’It is estimated that out of the affected individuals, 75% have a negative self image on account of their condition. We as dermatologists frequently encounter anxious parents or young individuals with doubts on vitiligo as soon as any colour difference appears anywhere over the skin. The most common doubts include fear of diagnosis, fear of increase in the white patches or the spread, likelihood of transmission to future kids and possible spread to spouse, besides developing insecurity and loss of confidence psychologically,” said Dr Rashmi Sarkar, IAVDL’s Delhi president and professor at Maulana Azad Medical College.

According to her, the disease is not 100 per cent curable but phototherapy or surgical treatments can help, and camouflage creams cam be used to hide the marks.

Dr Krishna Deb Barman, Professor at Maulana Azad Medical College and honorary secretary at IAVDL, highlighted two types of Vitiligo categorised as ‘localised’ and ‘generalised’.

Localised Vitiligo patients report that they have gone without developing new patches for many years and experiencing pigment loss years later, while Generalised Vitiligo is a progressive disease resulting in unpredictable cycles of spreading and cycles of stability throughout life.

The cause of Vitiligo is not well understood. Though it seems to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors, it’s directly not genetic since it is an auto-immune disease.

Dr Somesh Gupta, assistant professor at the Department of Dermatology and Venereology at AIIMS, said, “Vitiligo is a white patch on the skin and a scar on the mind. Depression, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts and attempts, difficulties in relationships and avoidance of social situations have been reported in individuals afflicted and more has reported whom Vitiligo, were developed before adulthood.”

Vitiligo may be associated with other auto-immune diseases. The most common is thyroid, which occurs in about 15 per cent of patients.

“Latest treatment options comprising new medicines and surgical procedures have made Vitiligo a more treatable condition. A patient should visit a Vitiligo specialist as early as possible and should not indulge in home remedies. We have treated numerous patients with both medical and surgical treatments and depending upon the site and extent we have an array of treatment options to help people regain the lost color band confidence,” said Dr Rohit Batra, dermatologist and Vitiligo expert at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, and chairperson, Media Cell, IAVDL.

He said Vitiligo should be treated both physically and mentally, “if a person undergoing stress has a chance for this disease to spread”.

The press meet mainly emphasised to educate the public at large as there are some misconceptions that need to be shed. The experts emphasised:

  • Vitiligo is not contagious. It does not spread by touch or any means of contact
  • There is no correlation between intake of certain food items, such as animal proteins or food items which are white in colour, and Vitiligo
  • Patients must seek for help as soon as possible.

The main focus of the press meet was on the counselling that is provided by Vitiligo clinics at hospitals which is equally important for the patients to de-stress them in order to not let this disease spread or lead the person to depression.

“Not everything that is white is Vitiligo. Consult a dermatologist for any queries and seek timely intervention. Do not spread or propagate myths, especially in this age of social media and Google-based information,” Dr Rashmi Sarkar concluded.

June 25 is observed as World Vitiligo Day. It was instituted for people across the world to come together and increase awareness on the disease, fight the prejudices and raise funds for research, support and education. Over the years, its purpose broadened to include recognition of the bullying, social neglect, psychological trauma and disability of people affected by the disease.

The World Vitiligo Day was first organised in 2011, after being established by Ogo Maduewesi, founder of VITSAF in Nigeria, and Yan Valle, the CEO of the Vitiligo Research Foundation.