A key factor in determining the long term impact of leprosy on somebody’s life is how early they are diagnosed and treated. Through our own medical facilities and by supporting health services provided by governments, churches and other charitable organisations we ensure that as many people as possible can be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.

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For those cured before serious nerve damage occurs it is likely that they will be able to go through the rest of life without any ill effects from leprosy.

Community health education programmes raise awareness and understanding of leprosy so that people have the knowledge and confidence to seek treatment when the earliest symptoms appear.

The Leprosy Mission’s hospitals are often seen as Centres of Excellence for the treatment of many of the more advanced complications of leprosy and receive referrals from far and wide.

For many people serious nerve damage has already happened before they are cured. Many of them will have already developed an impairment, deformity or disability, others will be at significant risk of this happening in the future.

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By giving people self-care training we can equip them to live and work safely in their own homes and communities. They can strengthen their hands and feet as well as use appropriate tools and safety equipment (like oven gloves and tools with better handles) to reduce the risk of any injury. They will also know how to identify smaller wounds and injuries and have these appropriately treated before they develop into something more serious.

If you can’t feel your feet it is vital that you have shoes that provide protection from injury. Our shoe makers make shoes that not only protect against sharp objects like stones or glass, they can be made to the exact size and shape required to support and already injured or damaged foot.

With reconstructive surgery, many of the deformities associated with leprosy can be corrected. For hands which have become clawed or a foot which has dropped, tendon transfer surgery can work around the problem and restore the movement that has been lost. After extensive physiotherapy patients will be able to walk again without dragging their foot or to grip and manipulate objects with their fingers. A similar technique can help people who have lost the ability to close their eye, risking blindness. A muscle normally used for chewing can be attached to the eyelid allowing them to close their eye by clenching their teeth. After some practice they will be able to keep their eye clean and healthy.

For patients who have lost one of their legs as a result of leprosy, the loss of mobility and independence can have a devastating impact on their life. We can provide a new prosthetic leg in many of the countries where we work allowing them to get back on their feet in every sense. For some people a suitably rugged wheelchair is a better option. With their regained mobility they can build a better quality of life for themselves and their families.

Sometimes, the emotional scars caused by leprosy can be much worse than anything we can see. Counselling and tending to the spiritual emotional needs of people affected by leprosy go hand in hand with our other work to overcome the effects of leprosy. Being diagnosed with leprosy, particularly if this has been accompanied by being stigmatised in the community, can cause people to feel worthless and to lose all sense of hope for the future. By supporting people to deal with these feelings we can help then to rediscover their self-worth and dignity and have the confidence to live a life of dignity and courage.

Photo credit – Tom Bradley

Education is the strongest tool available for families to lift themselves out of poverty. We support families affected by leprosy to be able to send their children to school by tackling community prejudices, providing financial assistance or by helping families to increase their own financial security.

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Beyond school, our Vocational Training Centres provide training linked to local business opportunities for young people whose education or employment opportunities have been restricted because of leprosy or disability, either because of their physical limitations or social stigma and prejudice. The training they receive allows them to access job opportunities beyond what many of them might have thought possible and to become financially independent and find respect and equality in their community.

We nurture self-sufficiency among people and communities affected by leprosy by providing business loans, training and support, largely through self-help co-operative groups, so that they can establish small businesses which provide the independence and means to improve their standard of living.

Leprosy is one of the world’s most stigmatised diseases. Still today people affected by leprosy can be marginalised, excluded and mistreated by the communities and societies they live in. It is an issue of basic human rights and we work to tackle both the superstitions and myths that lead to injustice as well as the denial of equality and human rights that are their result.

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People affected by leprosy are most empowered when they are accepted back into their communities with a sense of pride, dignity and self-worth. In all of the countries where we work, projects have a strong education component and we bring entire communities together to learn about the causes and consequences of leprosy. Through education we can dispel the myths surrounding the disease and build strong and inclusive families and communities.

By speaking up for the right of people affected by leprosy we can overturn injustice at whatever level of society it occurs. In Bangladesh, The Leprosy Mission was involved in the campaign to repeal the 1898 Lepers Act This law had confined people affected by leprosy to state-run institutions. Although stigma and misunderstandings surrounding leprosy are still rife, people affected by the disease are now better equipped to integrate into society and access benefits available to them.

Our partners in Nigeria, IDEA, campaign on a variety of issues facing people affected by leprosy. They have successfully removed the bureaucratic barriers that prevented people affected by leprosy from being able to obtain a passport or other travel or ID documents and are now working to ensure that people affected by leprosy are able to make use of their right to vote.

We have petitioned the Indian Government to uphold the rights of people affected by leprosy and to repeal a number of discriminatory laws.

In the UK we campaign to promote the rights of people affected by leprosy and to prevent negative or discriminatory portrayals in the media or elsewhere. Often this is done through our Delete the ‘L’ Word campaign.

We played a part in the successful advocacy efforts that saw Aardman Animations drop a controversial scene from the 2012 Oscar-nominated animation ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’. The scene originally depicted a character on board what was termed a ‘leper ship’, showing his arm falling off for comic effect.

Both the BBC and ITV have updated their editorial guidelines for both the portrayal of people affected by leprosy and the use of the word ‘leper’.

We have petitioned both MPs and MSPs to uphold and promote the rights of people affected by leprosy and with other disabilities in their International Development plans and priorities and elsewhere.