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World Leprosy Day – Easing Pain and Giving Hope

‘The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.’ – Mother Teresa

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2010 / 12:48 pm (CNA).- The message for the World Day for Leprosy was released today from president of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski. The archbishop explained in the message that “it’s not only a day of reflection on this devastating disease but, most of all, it’s a day of solidarity with the brothers and sisters than are affected by it.”

Quoting a statistic from the World Health Organization of 210,000 new cases of the disease in 2009, Archbishop Zimowski, said that to this number we can add the “innumerable” additional people “that have been infected but not counted and still lack access to a cure.”

In the message, released for the observance of the “World Day” on Jan. 31, the archbishop explains that the disease remains “invisible to the eyes of others, of society (and) of public opinion,” despite its significant presence in Asia, South America and Africa.

“Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2)

“In the most economically-advanced countries it seems like this disease has been forgotten, as have also the people affected by it,” he noted.

Many, said the archbishop, including St. Damian and “so many other saints and men of good will have helped to overcome the negative attitudes towards leprosy,” and there is an effective cure for the disease, but it persists in the world due mainly to collective and individual poverty. The plight of those infected is not helped by an accompanying fear of the disease, he added.

Archbishop Zimowski also took the opportunity of the World Day for Leprosy to make a call “to the international community and to the authorities of each individual State, inviting them to develop and reinforce the strategies to fight leprosy, making them more effective and far-reaching especially in places where the number of new cases remains high.”

“This must be done without overlooking educational and awareness-raising campaigns capable of helping those affected, and their families, to emerge from isolation and obtain the necessary treatment,” the archbishop advised.

At the end of his message, the president of the Pontifical Council for Healthcare Ministry expressed his thanks to the WHO, and to religious, missionaries, non-governmental associations and organisations, and many volunteers for their commitment “to eradicate this and other ‘forgotten’ diseases.”

Please  check out a couple of past stories today:

  • Father Damien’s sainthood
  • Father Damien’ of Hawaii New Saint
  • Day to Honor Father Damien and the Hawaiian People
  • Important Day in SHF History!

  • Let’s Wipe Leprosy off the Map
    The first Historic mention of Leprosy in India dates back to as early as 600 B.C., where it is denoted by a Sanskrit term ‘Kushtha’, literally meaning ‘eating away’. Reports of presence of leprosy can also be found in the ancient writings from Japan (10th century B.C) and Egypt (16th century B.C.). Ancient writers have put across several theories regarding the origin and spread of leprosy such as infection of the Nile River, unhygienic food habits of the people and so on.

    People suffering from Leprosy had to face criticism and were subjected to stringent treatments even in the olden times. They were required to wear special attire and further had to carry a wooden clapper to warn other people that they were on the move. They were also prohibited from visiting public places such as mills, bake houses or churches and had to keep themselves way from touching other healthy people or eating with them. They were not allowed to walk in narrow footpaths or wash in the common water sources such as wells, streams and so on.

    From what was known in the early times, we have come a long way understanding the disease. Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae that mainly invades the skin, mucous membranes and skin. Most people wrongly believe that leprosy is a skindisease. The truth, however, is that it is an air-borne disease, probably transmitted by minute respiratory droplets. G.A. Hansen first identified the bacteria in the year 1873, making it the first germ to be identified as a causative microorganism for any disease. It is also called as Hansen’s disease.

    The development of Dapsone in 1941 marked a milestone in the treatment of leprosy. Clofazimine and Rifampicin represent other most commonly used drugs. Widespread use of the drug during the 1970’s resulted in the development of resistance, making it ineffective when prescribed alone. By 1985, leprosy was viewed as a major public health issue in nearly 122 countries. The introduction of a combination of Rifampicin, Clofazimine and Dapsone (MDT) in the form of ‘blister pack’ revolutionized leprosy treatment for a second time.

    The provision of free MDT to several counties across the World, by the WorldHealth Organization, restricted the further spread and incidence of the disease. The pharmaceutical company ‘Novartis’ deserves special mention with respect to the elimination of leprosy for its active participation. Sustained and consistent leprosy eradication programmes ensured the prevalence of leprosy to as low as 1 in 10,000 by the end of 2000.

    The effective implementation of MDT therapy in areas previously uncovered, early recognition of nerve damage and management of relapse following short-term MDT represent some of the challenges that have to be overcome to ensure complete eradication of leprosy.


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