World Leprosy Day is annually observed around the world on the last Sunday of January. The day was initiated in 1954 by French philanthropist and writer, Raoul Follereau, as a way to raise global awareness of this deadly ancient disease and call attention to the fact that it can be prevented, treated and cured. It’s a disease that has horrified society since Biblical times, with civilizations both ancient and current casting out those who became incurably infected. And it remains with us thousands of years later, even having its own day on the calendar: Jan. 29 is World Leprosy Day.
What is leprosy and why can we still get it? Modern leprosy, formally known as Hansen’s disease, is an infection caused by certain bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacteria grow slowly, so it could be a decade before you even know you’ve contracted the illness. When the symptoms do appear, they may include skin lesions and growths, hardened skin, pain, numbness, enlarged nerves and muscle weakness. Some people with leprosy experience “eye problems that may lead to blindness.”
The disease was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease,” the CDC says. “Now, however, the disease is very rare and easily treated. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease.”
The World Health Organisation’s Global Health Observatory Data repository has ranked Nigeria as one of the countries in Africa with the highest burden of leprosy even as it recorded 2,892 new cases in 2015 with the highest incidences in the northern states of the country. Meanwhile, no fewer than 212,000 more people were affected by leprosy globally in 2015.
Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole has expressed concern over the existence of new leprosy cases, saying that in 2015, a total of 2,892 new cases were notified among which 9% were children and 15% have grade 2 disabilities because of late presentation at hospitals.
Speaking in Umuahia on the occasion of 64th/2017 World Leprosy Day with the theme, “Zero Disability Among Children Affected By Leprosy”, he noted that stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families is still a major challenge.
Commemoration of World Leprosy Day:
On this day, organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hold public and educational outreach events where they give people information about how to prevent the spread of the disease. Doctors and other medical professionals spend time talking to the public about how to recognize the symptoms of leprosy.
Organizations also hold rallies and marathons to raise money for research and providing treatment and rehabilitate those afflicted with the disease. In addition, seminars and workshops are held around the world to address the problems faced by leprosy patients and to find ways to reduce the social stigma faced by them.