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Global Health Thought Leader Uncategorized

Leprosy, Not Just a Biblical Problem

Katie Pace, MAP International Public Content Specialist

Katie Pace, MAP International Public Content Specialist

As World Leprosy Day approaches on Sunday, January 25, we thought it fitting to bring one of the world’s oldest known diseases to light.

Even though the global elimination of Leprosy was officially announced in 2000 (i.e. a prevalence rate of less than 1 case per 10,000 people at the global level), over 200,000 cases are reported worldwide each year in over 103 countries.  Global elimination doesn’t seem like the best term to communicate that there are as many leprosy cases each year as there are people living in Richmond, Virginia.

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Leprosy and Buruli ulcer are both chronic infectious diseases caused by the Mycobacteriums leprae and ulcerans.  Both diseases mainly affect the skin and nerves, if left untreated they can cause severe deformities and have life threatening consequences.  50% of those infected with Buruli ulcer are under 15 years of age, it is considered a flesh eating bacteria and has the power to sometimes eat through bone.

Leprosy and Buruli ulcer are curable.  Yes, curable.  If caught early, Buruli ulcer can be treated with an 8 week course of antibiotics.   Multidrug therapy (MDT) treatments have been provided worldwide by the WHO free of charge since 1995 and it is a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of Leprosy.

Even though it is curable, many people with Leprosy and Buruli ulcer are stigmatized and shunned from their communities – at times comparable to that of biblical times.

Waiting at the clinic in Kobedi

Waiting at the clinic in Kobedi

“When 55 year old Yaa discovered a small nodule on her right leg last year – she did what most people in her village in Ghana would do, apply herbs.

When that failed, she went to the nearest clinic and was sent away because the nurses didn’t know what was wrong with her.  Months went by and the nodule grew into an ulcer that consumed her leg and she had to be hospitalized for four months.  Yaa’s husband and eleven grown children decided that the only option was to leave her to a spiritualist to deliver her from what they believed to be witchcraft.

Six months after being sent to the local healer, the health team in her village came to find her.  After hearing a radio announcement made in part by MAP, they realized that Yaa was suffering from Buruli ulcer, a debilitating flesh eating bacteria.  MAP provided financial and technical support to the Community Health Workers in Yaa’s area so that they could identify additional cases and stop the spread of the disease.

As Yaa finishes her treatment and the ulcer has almost completely healed, she is delighted to be with her family again “I am very happy that my children have accepted that I am not a witch.  I was neglected by my own children, but now they call and visit me.  I am very grateful to MAP International for the tremendous support, I am blessed.”

MAP International has been engaged in the fight to end Leprosy and Burlui ulcer in West Africa since early 2002.  We are joining with renowned partners like American Leprosy Missions, Effect:Hope and The Leprosy Mission Ireland to eradicate Leprosy and Buruli ulcer.

“Every two minutes someone is diagnosed with leprosy,” says American Leprosy Missions President and CEO Bill Simmons. “For more than 100 years, American Leprosy Missions has been working to cure leprosy, care for those damaged by the disease and ultimately bring an end to leprosy. Each year, World Leprosy Day is a time to pause and be thankful for the many people who have been cured of leprosy. But it is also a time to remember the thousands of people who will contract leprosy this year and the millions who suffer from disabilities caused by this terrible disease. We must not forget, that in many parts of the world, leprosy is still a public health problem. So we encourage everyone to join us in observing World Leprosy Day.”

The fight against leprosy and related diseases in West Africa includes strategies that focus on cure, care and ending Leprosy and Buruli ulcer. In addition to teaching awareness, prevention and treatment of these diseases to the local people, we also train healthcare professionals to identify symptoms and begin treatment in the earliest stages of the disease to save lives.  We also provide medicines and medical supplies to over 100 countries each year, including medicines that fight Leprosy and Leprosy like diseases.

“In order to stop the consequences of Leprosy and Buruli ulcer we must properly train healthcare workers in infected regions to stop the diseases in the early stages,” says MAP International Vice-President of Global Programs Dr. Julien Ake.  “We must remove the stigma associated with Leprosy and restore the hope to people suffering from deformities from the diseases.  You can help by supporting MAP International and American Leprosy Missions in the fight to end the ancient disease of leprosy. “

World Leprosy Day, Sunday, January 25, join us in standing with some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world – those affected by leprosy.

About MAP International

MAP International is a global health organization that partners with people living in conditions of poverty to save lives and develop healthier families and communities.  Learn more about MAP International at www.map.org

About ALM

American Leprosy Missions exists to serve as a channel of Christ’s love to persons affected by leprosy and related diseases, helping them to be healed in body and spirit and restored to lives of dignity and hope.  Learn more about Leprosy from American Leprosy Missions at www.leprosy.org

About effect:hope

effect:hope (The Leprosy Mission Canada) is a Christian development organization, focused on achieving lasting, positive change among people living with the causes and consequences of leprosy and conditions related to leprosy www.efffecthope.org.

About World Leprosy Day

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. It is also known as Hansen’s disease, named after Norwegian physician, Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who debunked the prevailing notion of the time that leprosy was a hereditary disease. He showed that the disease had a bacterial cause instead. For thousands of years, people with leprosy have been stigmatized and considered to be at the extreme margins of the society. The aim of World Leprosy Day is to change this attitude and increase public awareness of the fact that leprosy can now be easily prevented and cured.

The date for World Leprosy Day was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Indian freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi worked tirelessly towards the betterment of people afflicted with leprosy.

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