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The Leprosy Mission works to dispel myths linking leprosy to Ebola in Nigeria

Staff at The Leprosy Mission are working hard to dispel myths linking leprosy to the Ebola virus.

Following the deaths of more than 1,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria from the Ebola virus, The Leprosy Mission Nigeria is educating its staff and the people it works with to minimise the risk of being struck down with Ebola.  Amidst this extra pressure, staff are having to quash myths perpetuated by the Nigerian national press.

In the widely-read Nigeria Guardian newspaper on Monday 11 August, Emmanuel Tawose, a herbal practitioner based in Kwara state ‘urged the Federal government to prevail on public health authorities to treat Ebola patients with drugs used for leprosy patients’ based on his understanding that ‘the presentations of this Ebola virus were exactly the way leprosy came into existence in those days before the discovery of the curative drugs.’

While Ebola is a virus, leprosy is a bacterial infection.  The incubation period of Ebola is two days to three weeks while the incubation period for leprosy is around five years.  And while Ebola is highly infectious, 95 per cent of people have natural immunity to leprosy.

The Leprosy Mission England and Wales supports projects in Nigeria.  Its Head of Programmes, Sian Arulanantham, said:  “In truth the link between leprosy and Ebola seems to be one of stigma.  They are both feared diseases but vastly different.  It is irresponsible for a health practitioner to write in a national newspaper that the Ebola virus could be treated with leprosy drugs which are a combination of antibiotics.  It would have no impact in treating a virus.

“Nigeria has the highest number of new leprosy cases in Africa each year but yesterday staff in our Nigeria office had to contact the editor of Punch newspaper, Nigeria’s most widely read paper, after they stated there was no cure for leprosy.

“There’s been an effective cure for leprosy in the form of multidrug therapy (MDT) since 1982 and our challenge is to bring a diagnosis and treatment to people in its early stages before they develop irreversible disabilities as a result of leprosy-caused nerved damage.  Our work is not helped by the national press printing untruths.”