Defeating leprosy

06 February 2019

Defeating leprosy

Written by Pete Garratt, Head of Operations Support at The Leprosy Mission International Office.

It is a stain on the history of humankind that, with all our advances in technology, in development, in medical care, we still live in a world where millions of people suffer the indignity of leprosy. In richer countries, people live in ignorance of this reality: “wasn’t leprosy something from Bible times,” they say. However, if your reality is that you are born into poverty, with poor nutrition, a low immune system, forced to use poor quality water and living in close and cramped conditions, then the chances of you being infected with leprosy are significantly increased. The bottom line is that this is a disease that devastates the individual lives of hundreds of thousands of children, women and men every year and costs countries hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact. Quite simply, it’s an injustice.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (NIV). Leprosy is like the thief; it steals, kills, destroys. It steals health, dignity, belonging and hope. When 17 year old Neha finished her Class 12 exams, she opened up a beauty parlour, with high hopes for the future. But a few months later she developed a high fever, contraction in her fingers and pain and swelling in her body. It became difficult for her to work in the parlour and, unable to pay the rent, she was forced to close it down. As the use of her fingers deteriorated, Neha discontinued her studies and went into depression. She had always been an active learner with diverse interest in vocational courses, but her condition made her lose her self-confidence. By the time she was finally diagnosed with leprosy, her fingers and thumbs were clawed and she could not close her eyelids. Two thousand years after Jesus Christ walked this earth, leprosy continues to ravage bodies and lives like Neha’s.

So we should do something about it, right? Well, it’s not that simple; it’s a complex disease to stop in its tracks, but yes, we should and we can do something about it. In fact, there is a cure and we at The Leprosy Mission are determined to get to the point where there is no more transmission of the disease. We want to do everything we can so that by 2035 children can be born into a world without being at risk from leprosy. We have heard the call of Jesus, to be his instrument in bringing transformation, love and hope, and we will not stop until leprosy is defeated.

As we move towards this 2035 goal of zero transmission, The Leprosy Mission has adopted a new Global Strategy 2023 delivering on our vision of ‘leprosy defeated, lives transformed’. It’s centred on our Christian identity and desire to show love to all people regardless of background. As you would expect, we are focused on zero transmission – essentially interrupting the spread of leprosy by detecting and treating people affected by leprosy earlier and earlier. This requires a multi-layered approach combining all of the methods that we know contribute to tackling leprosy in endemic areas. It also requires significant research breakthroughs in simple and rapid diagnostic tools.

NehaOf course, this is focused on the disease, but The Leprosy Mission has built an envied reputation for our focus on the person behind the disease and we remain absolutely committed to reducing any disability burden and to supporting the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of people affected by leprosy so that they can live a full and dignified life. Since April 2013, Neha has received counselling and undergone six surgeries at TLM Naini Hospital, including reconstructive and corrective surgery on her eyes, hands and feet. She used the hospital computer keyboards as part of her hand therapy, and today, besides being able to write well, she teaches computers to the patients in the ward. Neha wants to complete her college education and take up a professional course. A TLM social worker is looking to support her in this career development through an educational loan and the ‘Catch Them Young’ Scheme. Of course, to help people like Neha thrive, we also need to work hard for zero discrimination, seeking the inclusion of, and justice for, people affected by leprosy, and doing so in a way that encourages people to confidently stand up for their rights.

We are ambitious in our goals, but recognise we cannot do this on our own and so we are working in partnership with groups representing people affected by leprosy, with governments, the World Health Organization, international development organisations, and the commercial sector so that together we can make the breakthroughs we are seeking. We are also working hard to strengthen our large global footprint of member organisations around the world, to create an environment where our dedicated staff have the tools to flourish in their calling and where we can raise the additional support needed to reach a point where there is no more transmission of leprosy. In our lifetime this is achievable: together we can do it.

Read our Global Strategy