January 31st  is observed as World Leprosy Day. ( I have also read about observation on January 25th, but I am going with the Indian Development Foundation date.) This is a day to increase public awareness of leprosy by giving scientific information to the masses.  It is also an opportunity to encourage funding for non-profits helping leprosy patients.

Leprosy also called Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae. The bacteria invades the skin, and mucous membranes.

In India, leprosy cases were reported as early as 600 BC. It is also known as ‘Kushtha’ in India. In olden days, a stigma was attached to people with this disease. They were prohibhited from visiting public places, and lived in seclusion. It was and to an extent still is , a socio-medical problem.  Studies have shown that it is not leprosy that causes stigma, but the resulting disability.

Leprosy is completely curable and  is not contagious.  Though the social stigma lingers on, there has been some change in the way the disease is viewed today. However, we still have a very long way to go. Educating the masses about leprosy is vital.

Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission chief, Mr.Subhashan Reddy has called for a legislation “to prosecute parents with diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, leprosy,  and dyslexia, should they, knowing that they have the disease, have children.” (You can read the entire news item here.)

Didn’t I say educating the masses is vital? When a person in authority displays his ignorance in such a crude manner, what can we expect of the millions who continue to think that leprosy is a curse, and shun people who really need help?

Therefore, providing scientific information to the masses is crucial. Oh!, let me correct it. Providing scientific information to the masses, and educating politicians is important. Never mind.

The goal of integrating leprosy patients and removing the stigma associated with the disease is the need of the hour. The Leprosy Relief Emmaus Switzerland works on leprosy projects in India. You can learn at:  Leprosy Relief Emmaus Switzerland

You can learn more about leprosy in India at Indian Development Foundation.