Leprosy isn’t what you think
I often talk about Leprosy in terms of a motorcycle. The front wheel represents curing the disease and the rear wheel symbolises ending discrimination. Only when both wheels are turning at the same time will we make progress toward our destination of a leprosy-free worldYohei Sasakawa
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination
World Leprosy Day is observed every year on the last Sunday of January. It was started in the year 1954 by French philanthropist and writer Raoul Follereau. Aims to raise global awareness of this deadly ancient disease and call attention to it can be prevented, treated, and cured. In India, it is observed on 30 January to coincide with the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi worked tirelessly towards the betterment of people afflicted with Leprosy.
Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. It is also known as Hansen’s disease, named after Norwegian physician Gerhard Hansen. Hansen’s research led to establishing that Leprosy was not a hereditary disease and a bacterial disease. Historically speaking, Leprosy has existed since at least 4000 BC, and the disease was present and described in the ancient civilizations of China, India, and Egypt. The first known written reference to the disease on Egyptian papyrus dates from about 1550 BC. It is believed that Romans and the Crusaders brought Leprosy to Europe and that later the Europeans brought it to the Americas.
For centuries, Leprosy remained a poorly understood disease characterised by human suffering and social isolation and stigmatised. Both the label “leprosy” and the disability can result if this age-old disease goes untreated can lead to social exclusion. Compared to other conditions, Leprosy affects only a small number of people, but it is essential to build an inclusive world. Leprosy is an easily treatable infectious disease.
India achieved the elimination in 2005 at National level as per WHO criteria (defined as attaining a point prevalence of below 1 per 10 000 population). Despite the elimination of Leprosy as a public health problem globally, leprosy cases continue to occur. According to WHO, more than 2 lakh new leprosy cases are reported globally every year in 153 countries. India is currently running one of the most extensive leprosy eradication programs globally, the National Leprosy Eradication Program (NLEP). Despite this, more than 1 lakh new cases of Leprosy (more than 50% of the total cases reported) are reported every year in India.
Persons affected by Leprosy continue to face discrimination, reinforced in some countries by outdated laws that make leprosy grounds for divorce, prevent people with the disease from participating in public life or place other restrictions on their activities. Government of India brought Personal Law Bills 2018 to remove Leprosy as a ground for divorce or separation. Various steps are being taken to to “eradicate” Leprosy from India by 2030.
Over the past year, the world’s attention and focus have been on COVID-19 and overlooked other diseases. It has profoundly impacted leprosy control and prevention and the lives of persons affected by conditions like Leprosy.
Let us pay homage to the Father of the Nation by having Leprosy Free IndiaShri Narendra Modi