Bishop’s bid to rid of the world of ‘its most stigmatised disease’

The Bishop of Peterborough wants to raise money, support and prayer to rid the world of ‘its most stigmatised disease’.

The Rt Revd Donald Allister sits in the House of Lords and has already tasked government ministers with looking into why a promise to fund research and programmes on leprosy made in the London Declaration 2012, in a bid to eradicate the disease by 2020, has not been fulfilled.

He has now been appointed Vice President of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales which works to tackle the effects and causes of leprosy in 11 countries across Asia and Africa. The international development charity’s headquarters is in Peterborough.

Bishop Donald says he has always had an interest in leprosy, partly fuelled by his friend from his Cambridge University days, Dr Paul Saunderson, who now heads up research for American Leprosy Missions. 

“I have been quietly supporting The Leprosy Mission’s work for some years and I now want to raise money, support and prayer through the church to eradicate the disease,” he said.

“The thing that is striking about leprosy is that its sufferers are so stigmatised, in some cases it really is quite awful.

“I can’t think of any other illness a person can get that is so stigmatised that, in some countries, it is legally grounds for divorce. 

“The only disease I can liken it to stigma-wise is AIDS in its early days. We had a church member who died of AIDS in the 80s who kept his illness very quiet. Seeing the way he quietly suffered because of the fear surrounding AIDS affected me quite deeply.

“Princess Diana, who was Patron of The Leprosy Mission, made huge strides in tackling the stigma surrounding leprosy by touching leprosy patients. It seems, however, to have gone off the radar since.
“Although leprosy is a disease in the Bible, I expect many church congregations do not know it is still such a problem today despite being entirely curable.”

Bishop Donald described leprosy as an ‘insidious’ disease as a person can have it for many years before showing symptoms.

“Many people do not realise they have leprosy until it is too late,” he explained.

“If we were on the beach and cut our foot, there’s pain and you clean the wound and stick a plaster on it.

“But if leprosy has numbed the pain receptors in your feet then you won’t feel the cut or feel the pain of the infection that follows leading to horrendous disabilities.

“We don’t like pain but pain is so useful because it lets you know you have a problem. As CS Lewis put it, pain is God’s megaphone to the world.”

National Director of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, Peter Waddup, said: “We are so delighted to have Bishop Donald on board and thank him wholeheartedly for the support he has already given to people affected by leprosy in the UK parliament.

“We are incredibly thankful for the prayer support he has given to leprosy sufferers through the church and for being a voice for those who are too often pushed to the fringes of society and whose voices remain unheard.”