Over the past week, news has hit the headlines that a strain of human leprosy has been found to exist in red squirrels. This has brought it to the attention of many that leprosy still exists, but over social media many are still coining the disease 'medieval.' While the strain might be, the disease itself is far from medieval as hundreds are diagnosed each day.

Isabel Cross, our Director of Development says: 

“The disease tends to be prevalent among poorer communities like those we work in across India, Bangladesh and Mozambique, but is still very much around today and can have devastating effects. The story on squirrels has shocked many on social media but what they should be more shocked about is that a curable disease is still ruining the lives of so many.”

We have been working to beat leprosy since 1924 and have even contributed to finding a cure. Right now we're working to diagnose those in remote and rural locations who may not be aware of the symptoms. We provide access to treatment and look at improving lives beyond treatment offering livelihood training and running awareness campaigns. You can read more about our different projects here.

One of the big issues we face though, is a lack of awareness, even in the UK, that leprosy still exists.

“Many just don’t know that people overseas are living with disabilities, nerve damage and blindness because of leprosy. Often it pushes people further into poverty and they can be treated poorly because of the stigma around leprosy that exists.

If more people knew the effect leprosy was still having today, we’d be able to reach more of the suspected three million thought to be living undiagnosed with leprosy.”  

Leprosy is an infectious disease that often presents itself as a small patch of numbness on the skin which signifies nerve damage. This can then develop, if untreated, into clawed hands, dropped feet and even blindness. However, a course of multi-drug therapy can stop the infection and prevent further disability.

It’s our aim to detect cases of leprosy at an early stage so fewer people have to live with such effects.

Isabel says that given there is a cure available, it’s horrific that children, women and men are still enduring these consequences.

Back in the UK, despite the existence of leprosy in red squirrels, it is unlikely that anyone should contract it today. Dr. Renato Martinez works with leprosy pateints overseas and says there is evidence that suggests 95% of people are naturally resistant to the disease.

"Even then, one would have to be in close contact, such as living together, with someone with multi-bacillary leprosy for a long period of time (2 to 5 years)." Combined with the fact that in the UK the endemic level is very very low - only about a dozen cases per year from abroad, the risk is low and the concern as a UK citizen for one's own risk of contracting the disease should be correspondingly low as well."

To find more about the disease, click here