Written by Jannine Ebenso
What is World Leprosy Day?
The last Sunday in January was chosen as World Leprosy Day by French humanitarian Raoul Follereau in 1953. The day aims to raise awareness of a disease that many people believe to be extinct, when in fact over 200,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. In 2017, World Leprosy Day falls on 29th January.
Our Members all over the world are organising events to raise awareness about leprosy and its consequences. The Leprosy Mission Nepal invited Government officials, journalists, artists, entrepreneurs and members of the local community to come and see and hear for themselves why leprosy is still a problem in 2017. The theme chosen by Nepal this year for World Leprosy Day is 'Treat in time and prevent disability'.
"Leprosy is not merely a health problem," explains Shovakhar Kandel, Country Director of TLM Nepal. "It requires collaboration across many sectors in order to promote early diagnosis and treatment. We train all different kinds of people so that we reach everyone in society. Education is the key – it helps us catch leprosy cases early and so prevent disability. That way we help reduce the stigma, it is also cost-effective to prevent disability. The focus is on early detection. Leprosy stigma is associated mainly with the impairments (caused by nerve damage). Our awareness events target not only health professionals, but also teachers, students etc."
"Journalists are the voice in society," adds Ashok Adhikari, TLM Nepal Board Chair. "Through them we speak to everyone."
Increasing public awareness has other benefits in addition to improved detection and diagnosis. Jagannath Maharjan, Managing Director of Khajurico Nepal Pvt. Ltd., a local company that makes biscuits, has committed to finding jobs for 30 people affected by leprosy each year. "We are a local business, based in the same community as Anandaban Hospital. I seek to help others in the community if I can. I am an entrepreneur and I seek to use my skills and experience in a positive way that makes a difference. Our factory employs 600 workers to keep the machines working 24 hours a day, so why not offer some of these positions to the people that Anandaban serves? It is a win-win situation."
A theme of early detection is also this year's World Leprosy Day focus for the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP), who are calling for special action to prevent boys and girls from developing lifelong disabilities associated with leprosy, a disease that is fully curable if caught early. On average, more than 50 children are diagnosed with leprosy every day.
"It is a scandal that every year, thousands of girls and boys are diagnosed with leprosy, sometimes so late that they have developed irreversible impairments," says Jan van Berkel, President of ILEP. "It is imperative that in those countries or regions where leprosy is endemic, that enhanced detection and early diagnosis of leprosy is made a priority."
Where do you find leprosy in the world today? Find out here
Jannine Ebenso is Head of Quality Assurance at The Leprosy Mission International. She joined the Mission in 1991, living and working as a physiotherapist in Nigeria for 16 years before returning to the UK in 2008. In addition to her Physiotherapy qualifications, Jannine holds a Post-Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Cross-cultural Studies and a Master of Arts in Disability Studies. Follow Jannine on Twitter @JannineTLM