World Leprosy Day, observed on the last Sunday in January annually, aims to create awareness about a disease that many people believe to be extinct, especially in developed countries. Leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, is an infectious disease caused by a specific type of bacteria that targets the human body’s nervous system. It generally affects the hands, feet, and face. It is believed to spread through extensive exposure to the bacteria causing it. The day aims to not only educate people about the disease, but to draw attention to those afflicted by it.
HISTORY OF WORLD LEPROSY DAY
Leprosy is a long-term bacterial infection that can lead to permanent and irreparable damage to the nerves, respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. The condition causes loss of sensation in the affected areas. Often, the afflicted person cannot sense pain in the affected area, leading to neglect towards injuries or unnoticed wounds, and resulting in the loss of limbs. An infected person may experience other indications, such as muscle weakness and poor eyesight.
The disease is also called Hansen’s disease, named after the Norwegian doctor Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen, who is known for identifying the bacteria that causes Leprosy.
To create awareness about the disease, especially its socio-economic ramifications, French philanthropist Raoul Follereau established World Leprosy Day in 1954. In India, the day is observed on January 30 — the death anniversary of the apostle of world peace, Mahatma Gandhi, to respect his unflinching compassion for people afflicted with the disease.
Although easily curable today and rare in developed countries, such as the U.S, the disease is surrounded by stigma. This is true especially in India, Brazil, and Indonesia, where the maximum number of cases are found. Infected people are often discriminated against and ostracized, leading to a lack of access to appropriate medical care, treatment, and even denial of basic human rights.
Since Leprosy massively affects the underprivileged sections of the world’s population, the world is beginning to conveniently forget about the disease. World Leprosy Day aims to increase public awareness of Leprosy to enable people to seek treatment and live a life of dignity.
WHY WORLD LEPROSY DAY IS IMPORTANT
To eliminate social discrimination of afflicted people
The social discrimination of those who are infected has to be weeded out to allow patients to live with dignity. It is crucial to spread awareness about Leprosy for this reason. World Leprosy Day provides a platform for creating an inclusive society that treats the afflicted with the respect they deserve.
To spread awareness about the treatment for Leprosy
Leprosy can be cured with antibiotic treatment. However, most patients come from impoverished backgrounds and do not have the means to access treatment. Also, the stigma attached to the condition dissuades people from seeking treatment for the disease. The day helps make people aware that Leprosy can be treated.
To bust the myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease
There are too many misconceptions harbored by society about Leprosy. Many people feel that the digits of a person affected by Leprosy just “fall off” one day. Others feel that the disease is transmitted by sitting next to or shaking hands with an infected person. These myths can be busted on World Leprosy Day so that people living with Leprosy receive an equal opportunity to shine in society.