Leprosy facts

  • Leprosy still exists
  • It effects between 200,000 - 250,000 more people each year
  • Experts believe there are 3 million undiagnosed cases in the world today
  • An estimated 4 million people live with the physical consequences of the disease
  • Leprosy is a bacterial disease of the skin and nerves
  • It is completely curable
  • Leprosy causes patches of anaesthesia, meaning people are unable to feel pain in the affected areas
  • Treatment is free of charge but many people are unaware that it is available
  • The nine banded armadillo can transfer leprosy to humans
  • The last Sunday in January marks World Leprosy Day

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is an infectious disease affecting the skin and nerves which, if left untreated, can lead to disability and blindness.  It is caused by bacteria called Myobacterium leprae, these bacteria multiply slowly meaning the incubation period can be quite long, often around five years but in some cases symptoms can take up to 20 years to appear.

You can find out all you need to know about how leprosy is diagnosed by clicking the link below:

Diagnosing leprosy

The effects of leprosy

Damage caused to the nerves by leprosy causes loss of sensation, this means that people with the disease cannot feel pain in the affected areas and do not notice if they cut their foot walking or burn their hand on a stove.

Without treatment, injuries can become infected and ultimately can lead to the life-changing disabilities commonly associated with leprosy. It is thought that four million people are currently living with a disability caused by leprosy.

It is not just the physical effects of leprosy which have a damaging impact on a person affected; many people are shunned from their homes and communities due to the stigma that is associated with the disease. They are at risk of being beaten and banished from their own families. People are unable to work and are pushed further into poverty; they become homeless, lose access to their children, and in India leprosy can even be grounds for divorce.

A child’s education can suffer; they have to leave school when they can no longer hold a pencil properly, or they are bullied by their classmates for having the disease.

How is leprosy transmitted?

It is not fully understood how leprosy is transmitted but experts believe it is primarily through coughing and sneezing and long-term contact with someone who is affected by the disease and who has not been yet been treated.

We know that transmission is still happening today, as children as young as three are being diagnosed.

How is leprosy cured?

Leprosy is entirely curable through a course of multi-drug therapy (MDT) treatment for six months or a year. MDT is a simple yet highly effective cure for all types of leprosy. MDT is also available free of charge to all those affected by the disease. Part of our work here at Lepra, is to ensure people have access to this free treatment.

Due to the lack of awareness and the stigma that surrounds the disease, some people delay seeking help and are diagnosed too late to prevent the devastating disabilities. This is why wider early detection and treatment is key. Not only could it break the cycle of transmission, but it could also lower the number of people who already have visible disabilities by the time they are diagnosed.

Stigma surrounding leprosy

The children, women and men affected by leprosy experience discrimination and social exclusion simply because they - or someone in their family - have the disease. The stigma often remains with a person long after they have been cured.  Discrimination can lead to isolation, depression and even suicide.

In India, there are currently 17 laws which discriminate against people with leprosy. These include being prevented from running in elections and leprosy being grounds for divorce. Fear and discrimination of leprosy stem from a lack of education about the disease.

Leprosy today

Although leprosy control has improved over the years, it is still a prominent issue in certain parts of the world. In 2015, 210,758 people were diagnosed with leprosy, and it is estimated that there are millions more who have yet to be found.

The continuing detection of leprosy in children just shows that the disease has not been eradicated like many people think. In 2015 18,796 of the new leprosy cases were in fact children. The figures from the individual countries in which we work were:

  • India: 11,389 children
  • Bangladesh: 327 children
  • Mozambique: 116

In order to reinvigorate effort for leprosy control the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed the Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020 which is structured around three core pillars:

  • Strengthening government ownership, coordination and partnership
  • Stop leprosy and its complications
  • Stop discrimination and promote inclusion

The full Global Leprosy Strategy can be downloaded by clicking on the link below:

WHO Global Leprosy Strategy

There are 7 million people who need our help. We want to make leprosy a disease of little consequence; ensuring that it is easily diagnosed and treated, leaving no obvious disability and attracting no stigma.

Help us continue our fight to beat leprosy:


Frequently asked questions

Check out our easy to read infographic answering all of your frequently asked questions.


Lives affected by leprosy

You can read about some of the people we have met through our work fighting this disease like Aadil, who was diagnosed with leprosy when he was just three years old and how he overcame the disease. Or Kulamani, who was 50 years old when he contracted leprosy, and has spent the last 20 years living in a leprosy colony after he was shunned by his family and his community.

Read Aadil's story

Read Kulamani's Story