Don't Forget Leprosy!

January 30, 2022

World Leprosy Day is celebrated annually around the globe on the last Sunday of January. In India it is celebrated on January 30 marking the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The theme of World Leprosy Day 2022 is "United for Dignity", calling for unity in honouring the dignity of people who have experienced leprosy.

Once associated with fear, extreme prejudice and revulsion, leprosy has come a long way in now offering patients a dignified means to sustain their lives and families. Education is the key element that has contributed to shaping the attitude and behaviour of the public to those infected with the disease.

At a time when this disease was dreaded and in want for scientific treatment, the late Fr Augustus Muller started an asylum in Jeppu helping the patients to live with human dignity, of which they were deprived; until they could pass on to a better world when God called them. Years later The St Joseph’s Leprosy Hospital was erected and it was the foundational pillar of Father Muller Charitable Institutions and has completed 131 years of its service to those suffering from leprosy. A dedicated and well-trained team propelled the work further with the addition of new drugs, reconstructive surgeries, rehabilitation and extensive field-work.

The department of dermatology at Father Muller Medical College Hospital has received recognition for detecting and reporting the highest number of cases in Dakshina Kannada district. This year in collaboration with the Sasakawa Health Foundation in Japan, which is a Public Interest Corporation pursuing its ongoing commitment to a leprosy-free world; our department and institution is working towards extending this goal through various information, education and communication programmes to raise awareness in our local community.

By means of this article it is my wish to inform the readers that even as we are in the midst of this harrowing pandemic, let us not forget leprosy and bring to an end the myths and mis-information that might still be associated with it.

Here are some facts that I would like to mention about the disease:

Leprosy (also called Hansen’s disease) is caused by infection with a bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It is transmitted through the air via droplets from the nose and mouth during close, frequent and prolonged contact with untreated individuals. Ninety five percent of people have sufficient natural immunity and will not develop leprosy if exposed.

It is not hereditary and is certainly not a curse nor a divine punishment.

It does not spread by having a meal with a patient, by shaking their hands or by hugging, neither by sitting next to them on a bus.

The skin, nerves, and mucous membranes (the soft, moist areas just inside the body’s openings) are the sites affected by leprosy. The symptoms range from discoloured patches of skin, that may be numb and look lighter than the skin around; growths on the skin; thick, stiff or dry skin; painless ulcers on the soles of feet; painless swelling or lumps on the face or earlobes and loss of eyebrows or eyelashes. If the diagnosis is delayed and leprosy progresses unchecked, it leads to complications involving the nerves, paralyzed muscles, ulcers, injuries, blindness and shortening of hands and feet.

Leprosy is curable and is treated with multidrug therapy(MDT) composed of orally administered anti-biotics taken for 6 to 12 months.MDT is provided free of charge throughout the world via the World Health Organization (WHO).Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent the permanent disability that can result from the disease, and people with Hansen’s disease can continue to work and lead an active life. Once treatment is started, the person is no longer contagious. However, it is very important to finish the entire course of treatment as directed by the doctor.

In the past leprosy was feared as a highly contagious, devastating disease, but now we know that it’s hard to spread and it’s easily treatable once recognized. Still, a lot of stigma and prejudice remains about the disease, and those suffering from it are isolated and discriminated in many places where the disease is seen.

There were 1.3 lac new leprosy cases detected globally in 2020, according to official figures from 139 countries as per the World Health Organization, the highest numbers being from India. This included eight thousand children below 15 years of age. These astounding figures demand for united efforts in early detection and treatment and further promotion of education and awareness of this neglected disease in the years to come.

To conclude I would like to share the words of Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy elimination,” We are the only creatures on Earth that have been given the ability to reason. Let us use our reason to confront the stigma that persons affected by leprosy face, cure society of the disease of discrimination and stop repeating the mistakes of the past.”



Dr Myfanwy Joanne D'Souza
Consultant Dermatologist, Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprosy Father Muller Medical College, Mangaluru
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Comment on this article

  • mohan prabhu, Kankanadi, Mangalore/Ottawa, Canada

    Sat, Feb 05 2022

    An extremely helpful and thoughtful article, summarizing with precision the disease. During the days I lived in Kankanady, I had often seen leprosy patients in the leper asylum when attending early morning service at the chapel. Communion was given to them by the priest through a window between their ward and the chapel. I had seen them from a distance, close to the ward, as my father used to work for the Kankanady Hospital and Leprosia and was often called to send mechanics or electricians working under him to fix some non-functioning instruments. I had also known the great doctor, Dr. Coelho, the leprosy disease expert at the hospital who used to treat them. Lepers were dreaded, even by me, in those days. Every morning, before dawn some lepers in groups would pass on Kankanady road to stake their place in front of churches (especially the Milagres church where sometimes I visited) and beg - precisely at the entrance where common folks would be walking in. Their mangled bodies - noses legs and arms were a disgusting sight, so as a small boy those years (I am talking about the 1930s and early 40s) I used to dodge and run past them. I remember the day when my sister got married and a wedding dinner was arranged. My father invited the lepers to be ready to take whatever was left after the guests had their fill. And, despite the heavy rain that day, they were just hanging in outside the pandal where dinner had been served. They were NOT disappointed. There was plenty left over. In Bombay, where I lived next, lepers were there at bus starting point in the Flora Fountain area, hoisting their tin container for alms from passengers seated inside. It was really disgusting to watch them. These memories last a lifetime, and they are still so fresh in my mind. I often think of the lepers even at this age. And am so glad there is treatment that makes them part of society. You might know Dr. Derek Lobo in Mangalore who is a retired WHO leprosy consultant

  • SANDRA, Manipal

    Thu, Feb 03 2022

    Well written article. Thank you for sharing on the right topic on the world leprosy day, yes, at times we forget that we can reason.

  • Dev, Mangalore

    Tue, Feb 01 2022

    Very informative article which reveals the history side of the hospital too when we or our parents weren't born at all. Present day lepers are covid infected in 2020 and media educated scared of unmasked people in the west as well as here and more educated fearing the most. A beacon is shining all over the world as beginning of the end of covid narrative is falling apart with people trying to get back their medical freedom back from servants they voted for or employees they pay for to serve them.

  • Pramila Monteiro, Kadri Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 31 2022

    It was an exceptionally well-written article and created many interesting suggestions on the subject. I particularly liked the fact that it was an objective look at the issue, not a curse nor divine punishment. I would like to thank you for both a well researched and well-written article.

  • PARUL GUPTA, Chandigarh

    Mon, Jan 31 2022

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article.. very well written and informative.. can be understood easily by someone in medical field as well as a layman.. thank you dr Myfanwy.. would like to read more such articles by you..

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