World Leprosy Day always takes place on the last Sunday of January. This date was chosen by French humanitarian, Raoul Follereau as a tribute to the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who did much work with persons affected by leprosy and died at the end of January in 1948.
Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the skin, the lining of the nose, as well as the upper respiratory tract. Leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease.
Leprosy produces skin ulcers, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. If it isn’t treated, it can cause severe disfigurement and significant disability. It is one of the oldest diseases in recorded history. The first known written reference to leprosy is around 600 B.C.
World Leprosy Day creates awareness that leprosy is in fact curable. This day is meant to help people living with the disease to understand that it is in fact a curable disease and to know that other people care about them. Though the disease has a cure, there are many people living with the disease. Leprosy holds the stigma that it is like HIV/AIDS which is why World Leprosy Day was developed to educate people and remove or weakens the stigma. Typically, leprosy is associated with being highly contagious and has disfigurement properties. Once the diagnosis is made a person suffering from leprosy become social pariahs. This is another reason why World Leprosy Day was established.
This International Day is an opportunity to celebrate people who have experienced leprosy, raise awareness of the disease, and call for an end to leprosy-related stigma and discrimination.
The “United for Dignity” campaign calls for unity in honoring the dignity of people who have experienced leprosy. The campaign honors the lived experiences of individuals who have experienced leprosy by:
- Sharing their empowering stories and
- Advocating for mental wellbeing and the right to a dignified life free from disease-related stigma.
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