Frequently asked questions
What are the symptoms of leprosy?
Leprosy starts by damaging nerves close to the surface of the skin. The first signs are often discoloured patches on the hands and feet that have lost sensation due to nerve damage, and weakness of the muscles in these areas.
Is there a cure for leprosy?
Leprosy has been curable by multidrug therapy (MDT), a combination of three drugs that fight the leprosy bacteria, since 1982. People affected by leprosy usually take MDT for six to twelve months after diagnosis depending on the type of leprosy that they have.
MDT is provided free of charge by the World Health Organisation, donated by Novartis. The sooner a person affected by leprosy is treated the better as they are less likely to develop permanent impairments as a result of their leprosy.
How does leprosy affect the body?
If left untreated, leprosy progresses and the nerve damage spreads. Lacking sensation in their hands and feet, people with leprosy can injure themselves. And these injuries can lead to ulcers, infection and permanent disability.
Leprosy can cause muscle paralysis, resulting in clawed fingers and foot drop. This makes it difficult for people to walk or use their hands. It can also damage nerves in the face, causing the eyelid muscles to stop working. As the eyes are no longer protected by blinking, they are easily damaged, leading to sight loss and blindness.
Some people experience reactions to the leprosy bacteria in their body, even when the bacteria are no longer active and treatment is underway. These reactions can cause pain, sickness, swelling of the skin and fever.
How is leprosy spread?
Leprosy is mainly spread in airborne droplets such as through coughing or sneezing, by someone who is affected by the disease. However, it will only infect those with poor immunity, who may be undernourished, living in poor conditions and more likely to develop leprosy due to genetics. 95% of people are naturally immune to leprosy.
Does leprosy cause body parts to fall off?
Leprosy does not cause body parts to drop off, despite some people affected by leprosy missing fingers, toes or limbs. The loss of body parts is due to infection in injuries caused by lack of sensation in the hands and feet.
People often do not realise how bad an injury is because they cannot feel pain, which may then lead to it getting infected. This sometimes results in people having to have limbs, fingers or toes amputated to stop more serious infection.
The damaging of nerves on hands or feet that leads to reduced use of muscles also leads to shortening of the fingers and toes.
Is there a leprosy vaccine?
There is no current leprosy vaccine that provides full protection against the disease. However, there is a leprosy vaccine called mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP) which has been developed in India and is being used by the Indian government as part of its leprosy control programme.
This vaccine is useful but offers limited protection. Currently, research to develop a more effective vaccine is taking place in the USA. The Leprosy Mission will be involved in clinical trials to test its effectiveness.
Where is leprosy found in the world today?
The countries with the highest number of new leprosy diagnoses every year are India, Brazil, and Indonesia. More than half of all new cases of leprosy are diagnosed in India. In 2018 120,334 - or 57 per cent - of new cases of leprosy were found there.
In 2018, there were 15 countries reporting more than 1,000 new cases of leprosy. These were Bangladesh, Brazil, DR Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides full statistics on new cases of leprosy.
Is leprosy found in the UK?
Leprosy in the UK was widespread during the Middle Ages but declined from the 1400s onwards. The last indigenous case of leprosy in the UK died in 1798. Since 2015 there have been an average of five new cases of leprosy in the UK each year. However, this is largely due to people entering the UK from highly endemic countries.
If multidrug therapy (MDT) is provided free of charge, why do you say that it costs £24 to cure one person of leprosy?
This £24 covers the administration and transportation of MDT, plus the necessary care provided at a hospital or clinic.
When will leprosy be eradicated?
Leprosy is a complex disease. It is also the slowest growing bacteria, which means research to help us end the disease is challenging. Since leprosy also affects certain animals, it will be very difficult to eradicate the disease completely. However with new tools, ways of working and increased political commitment, it is possible that we will be able to end human transmission.
There is hope that we could stop leprosy transmission in our lifetime, although it will require significant investment in research to achieve this. In the meantime, there is no reason why leprosy should result in disability, if promptly treated.
What percentage of people diagnosed with leprosy every year are children?
Children (aged 15 and under) account for around 7.5 per cent of new leprosy cases. Most children affected contract leprosy between the ages of five and 14, but there are cases being diagnosed in children under five.
Where does The Leprosy Mission England and Wales work?
We work with the wider Leprosy Mission family and partner organisations in ten countries in Africa and Asia: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Sudan. You can find out more about our work in each country here.
Why does leprosy still destroy people’s lives?
In addition to the physical effects of the late treatment of leprosy which can leave people unable to work or carry out everyday tasks, the disease also affects people’s mental health and general wellbeing. Many people affected by leprosy struggle with anxiety and depression.
In countries where leprosy is prevalent, there are many myths and superstitions and a lack of understanding about the disease. This means that people affected by leprosy are often subjected to stigma and discrimination. They can be rejected by their families, friends and communities. Many people lose their jobs and struggle to find new employment. Others lose their homes or find themselves excluded from school.
Why is it wrong to use the word ‘leper’?
‘Leper’ is an offensive word which contributes to the stigma surrounding leprosy. It is a word that is associated with someone who is an outcast and who has been rejected by others and has been used to justify terrible treatment and discriminatory laws.
People affected by leprosy have asked that the word is no longer used and in 2009, WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa called for an end to usage of the word. He described it as ‘an extremely damaging term’ that contributes to stigma and impacts human rights. Since 2010, we have worked to ensure that the word is not condoned by media channels or used by public figures.
Can animals get leprosy?
Yes. Some animals do get leprosy, such as red squirrels, monkeys and armadillos.
Can leprosy be transmitted from animals to humans?
It is very rare for animals to pass leprosy onto humans. This usually happens where close contact has happened, such as by keeping armadillos as pets or eating them. The vast majority of leprosy patients have been infected by other humans.
Does The Leprosy Mission proselytise?
We are a Christian organisation, holding to Biblical values and principles of belief in human dignity, compassion and unconditional service. It is these values that motivate us to help people affected by leprosy and other neglected tropical diseases, just as Jesus did. We believe that by walking alongside some of the world’s most marginalised people, we serve Him.
We walk alongside people affected by leprosy and other neglected tropical diseases regardless of their ethnicity, social standing, gender, or faith. We prioritise practical care for people coupled with social justice and equality.
Does The Leprosy Mission only help Christians?
We work with people and organisations from all faiths and none. Leprosy and other neglected tropical diseases do not discriminate based on religion, so neither do we. In the countries where we work, our local partners include churches, mosques and other religious and non-religious organisations.
I’m travelling to one of the countries you work in. Can I visit one of your projects?
As we're sure you will agree, we have a responsibility to protect the privacy, dignity and safety of our the people we support. Therefore, in our projects, just as in the UK, we have rigorous safeguarding procedures. We also have limited staff who speak English who are available to accompany visitors. Unfortunately it is therefore not possible to visit our projects unless you join an organised visit to see our work. These visits are often organised for volunteer speakers. Click here to find out more about becoming a volunteer speaker.
Can I do an internship at The Leprosy Mission?
We occasionally offer internships. These are based in our Peterborough Office, not overseas. Internships are usually for three months, on a voluntary basis, but expenses are provided. They enable graduates to gain an insight into what it is like to serve in an international NGO, provide them with an opportunity to undertake a project that will benefit people affected by leprosy, enable them to use their existing skills for a purpose, and provide support through a mentor.
Internships are offered on a needs basis, usually for specific secondary research studies. Opportunities will be advertised on our website as and when they arise. However, if you are a new graduate and feel that God is prompting you to serve The Leprosy Mission, and have skills related to our work, then please take a look at information about our internships here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.