Ann Widdecombe tells charity staff and volunteers of the extreme poverty she witnessed in Ethiopia

Former politician, writer and broadcaster Ann Widdecombe has paid a visit to The Leprosy Mission England and Wales’s headquarters in Peterborough where she encouraged staff, volunteers and Board members that the work they are doing is essential in fighting leprosy and extreme poverty across Africa and Asia.

Vice-president of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, Ann Widdecombe recently made her first visit to one of the Christian international development charity’s projects in Ethiopia. She took morning prayers in Peterborough this morning before making a presentation on her trip and taking questions.

Ann began her presentation by showing a photo of the Woreda 1 slum in Addis Ababa where The Leprosy Mission is working to improve sanitation and provide jobs for residents of the slum where leprosy is rife.

The entire population of the slum – 24,000 people – currently has access to just 200 filthy toilets and Ann spoke movingly about how she had seen a man, unable to walk and blind as a result of leprosy, shuffle through the filth of the slum to reach a place by the road where he was able to beg.  

Ann said: “The visit had a tremendous impact on me. It made me realise that education is key.  It is a serious situation when people don’t know the signs of leprosy, don’t know it can be stopped in its tracks and don’t know what to do about it. This is why we need education and governments to take action. We also need the World Health Organisation to stop setting elimination targets that can prove counterproductive. Countries want to be seen to be progressive and not have this disease so, as a result, under-reporting occurs.”

Ann said the stigma surrounding leprosy remained shocking for a disease which is curable and doesn’t result in disabilities and blindness if treated promptly.

“I met one woman who had saved enough money to send her daughter to school but she walks seven miles to and from school as she does not want anyone to know that she comes from a leprosy affected family living in the Woreda slum,” she said.

“Some of the best work we do is encouraging enterprise so that people can make a living rather than just have to rely on the charity of others by begging. It also raises their status in the community.”

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