International Women's Day 

For International Women’s Day, we’re raising awareness of the matter that many women are living with undiagnosed leprosy, through fear of the consequences they may face through the stigma of the disease.

3 million people are living undiagnosed 

There are 600 people who are diagnosed with leprosy each day. However, even though the daily diagnosis is high, the World Health Organisation state that there are 3 million people living undiagnosed with the disease. It’s important these people are found and treated, in order to help prevent life-changing and painful disability.

Ground-breaking new methods 

Our team have recently pioneered a new active case finding method, trialled in the state of Bihar in India, (a country which contributes to 58% of the world’s leprosy burden), we visited a total of 85,560 people from communities and households where cases of leprosy had been reported, checking for symptoms and signposting those with the disease to treatment.

Although active case finding methods have been employed by the Indian Government in their National Leprosy Eradication Programme in 2015, these focused specifically on those sharing a household with a reported leprosy case. Along with self-referrals this showed an unequal distribution of male to female cases; and in 2015 over 127,000 cases of leprosy were diagnosed in India, however only 37% of those who were diagnosed were women.

30% more female cases go undetected 

Our new methods focus on both the household members and 20-25 households around the reported case. Of the 321 newly diagnosed leprosy cases discovered via this method, 48% were female. Consequently as there is no evidence to suggest women are less affected than men, suggesting that almost 30% of female cases go undetected via the regular detection programmes.

The stigma of leprosy 

Little known to many in the UK, is the stigma which surrounds the disease, where many are subject to severe social exclusion due to poor health education and belief that the person is cursed. This affects women most due to repression from being perceived to have a lower social standing to men, early and arranged marriage and confinement to the home. In many cases, women affected by leprosy face violence, are forced to live on the streets and although now repealed, divorced under the 1898 Lepers Act. Because of this, women face triple discrimination of being a woman, having leprosy and a disability.

It is the combination of poor health awareness, stigma and fear of the consequences which prevents many from actively seeking diagnosis for the disease.

Jayashree PK, Vice Chair of Lepra India comments about her experience of having leprosy and the importance of raising awareness of the disease to find and treat more women:

"Poverty, a heavily stigmatised disease like leprosy, lack of education and being a woman is a terrible combination in a country like India, where women from an economically weaker section still do not have the same chances as men. Early diagnosis of the disease can make a real difference, and this happens when women are educated and empowered so they can come forward to claim their rights to health, education and livelihood.”

We firmly believe that our active case finding methods, raising awareness of the disease and empowering women to access their rights will vastly contribute to one day beating leprosy altogether.

You can help 

Support our appeal to help us find the hidden women affected by leprosy. 

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*Blog updated 15.03.2017 to show new statistics