World Leprosy Day
By Katie Pace, MAP International
World Leprosy Day is celebrated on Sunday, January 31 to coincide with the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Gandhi worked tirelessly to impact those afflicted with leprosy.
Each day, more than 50 children worldwide are diagnosed with leprosy. An additional 50 children will go undiagnosed and many of them will face permanent disabilities from the disease. If detected early, leprosy can be cured.
While in West Africa recently, I had the pleasure to meet numerous leprosy patients including cases caught early as well as severe cases that have left permanent deformities.
Even though leprosy is curable, many people with leprosy are stigmatized and shunned from their communities – at times comparable to that of biblical times.
I was lucky enough to meet Leticia, she lives in the Taabo Village of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. Even though she’s just seven years old she has been through than most people in her life. She was born with cleft lip and MAP International and our partners worked to provide her with surgery, a surgery that sutures and wound care items were essential for.
In early 2015, Leticia was brought back into a clinic that MAP works with because of the high number of leprosy and Buruli ulcer cases. Her right arm was noticeably swollen and the doctors were called in for a consult. This seven year old child had somehow contracted leprosy and Buruli ulcer, both strains of flesh eating bacteria’s. Thankfully, the staff trained on identification by MAP immediately began with the courses of antibiotics needed for treatment, but that wasn’t all her wounds needed to heal. The clinic had gauze, bandages and ointments on hand from MAP, and they were able to save her from the scars that come with leprosy. Eight months later, Leticia is healed and healthy because of MAP and their generous partners.
I also had the privilege of meeting Grace in a rural village in Cote d’Ivoire. She’s been suffering with leprosy since she was only three years old. Suffering from leprosy hasn’t been easy. Early on, no one knew why this young child had patches on her hands. Leprosy, even though curable has a stigma that causes people, even children to be alienated from the community. Seeking a normal life for herdaughter, Grace’s mother sent her to Chinese healers in the community and for a short time – it worked.
When the same patches reappeared on her hands, her mother took her to a rural clinic where MAP International and American Leprosy Missions work together to stop the spread of leprosy and the disfigurement it causes.
Grace said, “The nurse gave me some injections and a few days later my hands were back to normal.”
The leprosy came back this year and Grace knew just where to go – the clinic. She received a full course of treatment for leprosy and her patches have now cleared up and the leprosy is cured. After reading Grace’s story from our field team early in 2015, I just knew that I had to meet her while I was in Cote d’Ivoire. This beautiful little girl was glowing and I almost didn’t recognize her because after the treatment she was no longer malnourished and she was just a lovely normal little girl. She told us that she wants to be a school teacher when she grows up and thanks to the antibiotic she received for the leprosy, she will no longer be stigmatized because she has no visible deformities.
MAP International has been engaged in the fight to end and prevent the spread of leprosy in West Africa since early 2002. We have joined with the best leprosy partners in the world: American Leprosy Missions, Effect:Hope and The Leprosy Mission Ireland to stop leprosy.
The fight against leprosy and related diseases in West Africa includes strategies that focus on cure, care and ending leprosy. 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.
World Leprosy Day, Sunday, January 31, please join us in standing with some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world – those affected by leprosy.