World Leprosy Day
Unveiling the Facts and Ending the Stigma
World Leprosy Day is a day observed every year on the last Sunday in January to raise awareness about leprosy.
Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is an infection caused by the bacterial species Mycobacterium leprae. Signs of infection may take up to 20 years to show and develop due to the bacteria's slow-growing nature.
The disease can affect the skin, eyes, and nasal mucosa and attack the nerves causing the affected areas to lose the ability to sense touch and pain leading, in some cases, to hand and feet paralysis and loss of toes and fingers if left untreated. The affected skin may experience loss of feeling and change color from light to dark patches or even red due to inflammation. This might also lead to injuries such as cuts and burns. Facial nerve damage can result in corneal ulcers and blindness in advanced cases. Loss of eyebrows and saddle-nose deformity are other advanced signs of the disease.
It was believed earlier that Hansen's disease is highly contagious. However, it is well known nowadays that the disease can not be caught unless there is prolonged close contact with someone with untreated leprosy.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to maintain an active life. Treatment is carried out using a combination of antibiotics. The disease can be diagnosed through a skin or nerve biopsy, looking for the bacteria under a microscope with additional tests to rule out other skin diseases. Usually, the risk of getting the disease is low as more than 95% of people have acquired natural immunity to the disease.
Globally, there are as many as two million people permanently disabled due to Hansen's disease. Africa, the Americas, and Asia are among the continents where the condition prevails.
Raising awareness through education and improving treatment access are the most effective solutions to eliminate the disease worldwide.