Every year on the last Sunday of January, World Leprosy Day seeks to increase public awareness of leprosy, a chronic infectious skin disease. The day also helps to debunk common myths associated with leprosy.
In 2021, World Leprosy Day is celebrated on January 24th.
Unbeknownst by many, leprosy was renamed Hansen’s disease in 1873. It was renamed after the Norwegian scientist, Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen discovered the cause of the illness. This cause was a slow-growing bacterium called Mycobacterium leprae. Despite the fact the disease was officially renamed, many people and organizations still call it leprosy. In 2016, there were 200,000 cases of the disease in the world. In the United States, about 150 to 250 cases are reported each year.
Through the years, people with leprosy have been ostracized in their communities. Sadly, even though there is now a cure for the disease, the stigma still exists. This is due to the myths that people believe about the disease. These myths include:
- Leprosy is very contagious
- The disease causes fingers and toes to fall off
- Historical leprosy is the same as modern leprosy
- Leprosy is caused by a curse or sin
- Leprosy is always fatal
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), none of these statements are true. Leprosy is very hard to get. About 95% of the adults won’t catch it because their immune system can fight off the bacteria. The disease attacks the nerves of the fingers and toes. When the disease is untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the nerves and skin. People who have leprosy do not need to be quarantined. When treated with antibiotics, they will not be contagious after starting the medicine.
The history of World Leprosy Day
World Leprosy Day was established in 1954 by French philanthropist, Raoul Follereau. His goal was to raise awareness about leprosy. He also aimed to teach people that this ancient disease is now easily curable. He chose the last Sunday in January as it was close to the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death, which occurred on January 30th, 1948. Gandhi was known for having compassion for those with leprosy.