27 Jan, 2017
Author/blogger Reggie Simpson
If you have seen the classic film Ben-Hur (1959) starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy prince and merchant in Jerusalem, you will know that Judah was unjustly condemned to the galleys and his mother and sister imprisoned by the Romans. On his return, Judah finds his mother and sister had contracted leprosy in prison and had been banished to the Valley of Lepers. Indeed, the Bible has many references to leprosy.
But leprosy (also known as Hansen’s Disease) was not restricted to ancient Christians, nor is it an ancient disease. It continues today among many vulnerable people and religions around the world.
World Leprosy Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in January each year to coincide with the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s death on 30 January 1948. Gandhi worked tirelessly to help those afflicted with leprosy.
The goal for World Leprosy Day is to raise the awareness of a disease that many people believe has been eradicated when in fact more than 210,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, more than half of these in India.
Leprosy is an infectious chronic bacterial disease caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae (a relative of the tuberculosis or ‘TB’ germ).
It targets the nervous system especially the nerves in the cooler parts of the body – the hands, feet, and face. Numb patches on the skin are usually the first sign of the disease.
As the disease progresses it can lead to nerve damage and other complications. Numbness and lack of feeling can lead to injury and wounds that become infected. Changes to the skin leave those suffering with leprosy can lead to ulcers which, left untreated, can cause further damage, wounds and visible disfigurements such as collapsed noses or shortened limbs. Blindness can also occur.
In turn, this can lead to stigma towards those affected and their families, causing them to be shunned and even excluded from everyday life, much as the with the case of the fictitious Judah’s family.
However, leprosy is not hereditary nor can it be caught by touch. It is most common in places of poverty where overcrowding and poor nutrition and housing allow people to become more susceptible to infection. There are still some cases of leprosy in the United Kingdom, but they are often as a result of emigration from susceptible areas around the world and are often misdiagnosed as eczema.
Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT), which was developed in the early 1980s. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease.
For more information about World Leprosy Day and the charities who are engaged in its eradication, visit:
And for a Podiatry student’s account of her work with leprosy patients in Nepal copy the following link into your web browser