Widely believed to be the world's oldest disease, leprosy is also one of the world's most stigmatised. A specialist approach is required to educate, encourage and empower people to stand up for their human rights. Age-old stigma surrounding leprosy sees entire families robbed of their job opportunities, education, marriage prospects and their dreams shattered.
Fear and misunderstandings surrounding leprosy, such as the disease being a curse for some alleged misdeed, are widespread. In turn they fuel a vicious circle that begins with those affected hiding the first suspect skin patches in order to avoid being shunned by their families and becoming a social outcast.
Three million disabled
Leprosy is a mildly-infectious disease caused by a bacillus called Mycobacterium leprae – a relative of the TB bacillus. It occurs where there is dirty water, bad nutrition and poor standards of living, meaning people's immune systems are not strong and they are unable to fight the disease.
World Health Organisation figures reveal there are more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy diagnosed globally each year. Globally, there are more than three million people living with irreversible disabilities, including blindness, as a result of the late treatment of leprosy.
We concentrate our efforts on 11 countries. We work closely with staff in these Asian and African nations to provide and evaluate a range of different projects that help transform the lives of leprosy-affected people. As a global charity, The Leprosy Mission works in around 30 leprosy-endemic countries.