World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday in January. The day was chosen by French humanitarian Raoul Follereau in 1953 to coincide with the anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi’s death on 30th January 1948.
World Leprosy Day raises awareness of a disease that many people believe to be extinct. Today it is not just the disease that is forgotten, but the people too.
According to official reports received by the World Health Organisation from 103 countries and territories, the global registered prevalence of leprosy at the end of the first quarter of 2014 stood at 180 464 cases.
Most countries that were previously highly endemic for leprosy have achieved elimination at the national level and are intensifying their efforts at regional and district levels. During 2007, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique reached elimination at the national level, and were joined by Timor-Leste by the end of 2010. However, pockets of high endemicity still remain in some foci in Angola, Brazil, the Central African Republic, India, Madagascar, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania and in previously highly endemic countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique. These countries remain highly committed to eliminating the disease, and continue to intensify their leprosy control activities.
What is leprosy?
Leprosy is an infectious disease of the skin and nerves which, if not diagnosed and treated quickly, can result in debilitating disabilities. The effects of leprosy are exacerbated by the negative stigma surrounding the disease.
In countries like India and Bangladesh, people are subjected to discrimination and social exclusion simply because they are, or have previously been, affected by leprosy. In India there are still 17 laws which discriminate against people with this disease.