TLM's history

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Over one hundred and 35 years ago one man’s spirit of adventure took him to India. There, the future course of his life was cemented; he saw the appalling living conditions and the social isolation of people with leprosy.

Wellesley Bailey (pictured above with his wife Alice) felt that ‘if there was ever a Christlike work in the world it was to go amongst these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the gospel.’ His compassion and action birthed The Leprosy Mission (TLM); an organisation that is now working to raise awareness of leprosy and to bring hope and healing to leprosy-affected people. TLM is present in almost 50 countries around the world.

This is our story.

1870s – The early years
In 1869, Wellesley Bailey, a young Irishman, sets sail for India intending to join the police force. On arrival he decides instead to become a teacher. During his training with an American mission organisation he sees for the first time the devastating effects of leprosy. 
In 1873 Wellesley and his wife, Alice, return to Ireland from India, heavy with the thoughts of the suffering they have seen – people with leprosy who are severely disabled, rejected and without any means of support. Wellesley and Alice are determined to raise awareness of leprosy and its damaging consequences. In 1873 they begin a speaking ministry; telling people about the needs of the leprosy patients they have met. And in 1874 The Mission to Lepers, now The Leprosy Mission, is born.

In response to the talks given by the Baileys, people begin giving money and praying for the work. By the late 1870s the Mission is raising £900 a year and caring for 100 leprosy-affected people in north India.

Throughout the rest of the 1870s and into the next two decades, the Baileys travel extensively to see the needs of people affected by leprosy and to encourage support for the work.

1880s – First Mission Hospital
Three support offices are formed in England; Mary Reed is sent to India as the Mission’s first missionary; Purulia Leprosy Hospital in West Bengal opens with support from the Mission.

1890s – India and beyond
The Mission’s first public meeting is held in London – the money raised helps to build a leprosy home and children’s home in Neyyor in south India. Wellesley Bailey visits Mandalay, Burma, to open the first ‘Mission to Lepers’ home outside India. Bailey tours the USA and Canada and a support office in Ontario is formed. Gradually the Mission’s work extends to China and Japan.

1910s – Into Africa
Work begins in Africa. Income to and interest in the Mission’s work steadily increases throughout the decade. Bailey and his wife travel to China, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and India, visiting projects, raising awareness of leprosy and asking for support.

By the time Bailey retires in 1917 the Mission has 87 programmes in 12 countries with support offices in eight countries. The annual income has risen from £5,000 to £40,000. William Anderson succeeds Bailey as secretary of the Mission.

1920s and ’30s – Eradicating leprosy
A new treatment for leprosy becomes available; a few people are cured. The Mission’s headquarters move from Dublin to London. Under Anderson’s leadership the Mission adds a further aim to its vision statement: to aid in the attempt to eradicate leprosy. A new leprosy hospital is opened in Faizabad, India.

From 1939-45 much of the Mission’s work is affected by the Second World War, particularly in China, Japan and Burma. Many patients are dispersed and hospitals overrun.

1940s – Treatment and surgery
The first effective cure for leprosy, Dapsone, is introduced. Over the next 15 years millions of patients are successfully treated. William Anderson retires and Donald Miller becomes the new superintendent of the Mission. Dr Paul Brand, a surgeon, and colleagues at Karigiri, South India, pioneer life-changing reconstructive surgery to correct leprosy-related disabilities. 

1960s – From ‘The Mission to Lepers’ to TLM
More leprosy patients are treated in their own communities as the disease can now be treated with a course of drugs (Dapsone). But researchers discover that some patients are beginning to develop resistance to Dapsone.

Wilfred Russell, the new superintendent of the Mission, visits Korea and agrees to support a new hospital there. A Mission hospital is opened in Anandaban, Nepal. Work extends into Bhutan. 

In 1965 The Mission to Lepers changes its name to The Leprosy Mission (TLM) to avoid the negative connotations of the word ‘leper’. Newberry Fox takes over as General Secretary. The Mission starts projects in Papua New Guinea. Supporters in Australia and New Zealand agree to begin to fund work in Indonesia.

In the late 1960s there are still 15 million people suffering from leprosy. And only one sufferer in every five is receiving any sort of treatment.

1970s – Community surveys
TLM’s community work dramatically increases as local skilled medical staff travel from village to village diagnosing new cases of leprosy and providing new patients with anti-leprosy drugs.

1974 is TLM’s centenary year. By this time, alongside its work in Asia, TLM is working in nearly 40 locations in 14 countries across Africa.

1980s - Breakthrough
In 1981 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a new combination drug treatment for leprosy – Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT). People are cured in as little as six months. TLM agrees to adopt MDT in its treatment of leprosy and agrees an international budget of £5 million.

1990s - Rehabilitation
As more leprosy-affected people are cured, caring for people with lasting disabilities becomes increasingly important. TLM begins a programme of social, economic and physical rehabilitation. 

2000s – Staying focused
There are now significantly fewer cases of the disease. TLM’s work becomes more community focused. Some TLM hospitals in India are closed as projects focus more on training, skills development and income generation for leprosy-affected people.

The 2004 tsunami hits parts of south India where TLM has a strong presence. Staff are able to care for people affected by the disaster by helping to provide low-cost homes and means of making a living, such as new boats for fishing communities.

TLM responds rapidly to the needs of many thousands of people displaced by Cyclone Nargis which brought devastation to Myanmar in 2008. Disability Resource Centres provide support to leprosy- and disability-affected people, helping them to rebuild their lives.

Many leprosy organisations diversify and begin working in many other areas of health care. But The Leprosy Mission stays committed to its vision of a ‘world without leprosy’ continuing to provide expert care to leprosy-affected people.

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