National Director praises Pope Francis’ call to defend the world’s most marginalised

The National Director of The Leprosy Mission England and Wales has praised Pope Francis for defending some of the world’s most marginalised people, after he called on world leaders to unite their efforts to combat leprosy and end the stigma surrounding the disease.

On Sunday the Pontiff offered words of encouragement to missionaries, health workers, and volunteers committed to serving those affected by leprosy.

Pope Francis remarked that the Covid-19 pandemic “has confirmed the need to protect the right to health for those who are most fragile”.

He said he hoped “that the leaders of nations will unite their efforts to treat those suffering from leprosy and for their social inclusion”.

Peter Waddup, National Director of The Leprosy Mission, praised Pope Francis for heeding Jesus’ example of healing those with leprosy.

Peter said: “In Luke’s Gospel we read how Jesus not only gave physical healing to the man with leprosy who begged him to “make him clean”, but also emotional and social healing.

“Leprosy shouldn’t be a 21st Century disease. It has been completely curable since the 1980s with a combination of antibiotics. Leprosy thrives where there are poor living conditions, malnutrition and a lack of sanitation. It continues to blight lives in the poorest communities on earth, causing disabilities and blindness.

“But from what I have witnessed, it is the stigma surrounding leprosy that is the most heartbreaking. Fear, myths and prejudice surrounding leprosy are as prevalent today as when Jesus walked the earth.

“People are cast out of families, their communities, workplaces and schools because of this prejudice. They are sent to the very fringes of society, seeing people affected by leprosy among the most marginalised on earth.

“As Christians we have a duty, a calling, to reach out these people and see that they are included and valued. I am incredibly grateful to Pope Francis' call to world leaders to ensure that people are cured from leprosy and can thrive in their communities. From reading the Bible we know this is exactly what Jesus would do.”

The Catholic Church has championed many human rights defenders for those living with the effects of leprosy. Pope Francis has visited leprosy colonies. In 2019 the late British missionary John Bradburne, who was murdered by Mugabe’s troops for defending a leprosy colony in Zimbabwe, was put on the road to sainthood by the Vatican.

The Leprosy Mission has been awarded UK Aid Match funding from the UK government for its Unconditional Appeal. The campaign seeks to help rid Mozambique of leprosy by creating a sea change in attitudes surrounding the ancient disease.

Championed by Dame Darcey Bussell, who visited the work while on holiday with her family in Mozambique, the campaign shines a light on leprosy in the troubled northern Cabo Delgado province.

It seeks to improve access to treatment and educate people about leprosy so that they recognise the early signs. Crucially, it strives to give people the confidence to step forward and be treated before they develop disabilities.

Peter explained: "It takes more than improving access to healthcare to end leprosy in Mozambique. Our colleagues could send someone from their base in Pemba to run clinics to diagnose and cure leprosy. This would have some success, but it takes a complete change in culture to end a disease like leprosy which is so entrenched in stigma.

"The Unconditional Appeal works by training up Leprosy Changemakers. These are volunteers, health workers, traditional healers, religious leaders and village chiefs trained to recognise the early signs of leprosy.

"These amazing pillars of the community are telling people about leprosy and that it is completely curable. They are a vital linchpin between the patient and medical services. They act as a supportive friend on the journey to a cure."