Leprosy facts

  • Leprosy still exists - it affects between 200,000 - 250,000 more people each year
  • Leprosy is a bacterial disease which affects the nerves
  • It causes patches of anaesthesia on the skin, meaning people are unable to feel the affected areas
  • It is completely curable
  • Treatment is free but many people are unaware it is available
  • 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
  • The nine banded armadillo can transfer leprosy to humans
  • The last Sunday in January marks World Leprosy Day  - a day to raise awareness

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is an infectious disease affecting nerves which, if left untreated, can lead to life-changing 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.

Frequently asked questions

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

FAQ's

The effects of leprosy

Damage caused to the nerves by leprosy causes loss of sensation, this means that people with the disease cannot feel the affected areas making it easy for them to sustain injuries even from something as simple as a stone in their shoe.

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

Stigma surrounding leprosy

It is not just the physical effects of leprosy which have a damaging impact; children, women and men affected by leprosy experience discrimination and social exclusion simply because they - or someone in their family - have the disease. 

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.

Many people are shunned from their homes and communities, lose access to their children, and are even abused.  The stigma often remains with a person long after they have been cured and the effects can lead to isolation, depression and even suicideGulabsha had to drop out of school due to leprosy

The prejudice and disability caused by leprosy means often people affected are unable to work and are pushed further into poverty; they can become homeless and may no longer be able to support their family.

A child’s education can suffer; the pain and paralysis caused by leprosy means eventually it becomes hard write, many have to leave school when they can no longer hold a pencil properly, and often they are bullied by their classmates for having the disease.

Gulabsha had to drop out of school because she had leprosy and struggled to write.

Read Gulabsha's story

We work to dispel the stigma surrounding leprosy through health education and awareness programmes.

It cost just £32 to run a community health awareness campaign to educate up to 500 people about the signs and symptoms of leprosy, and remove the fear surrounding the disease.

Help us beat leprosy

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.

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

Diagnosing leprosy

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 and is 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.

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 children

In order to renew efforts 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

Support people affected 

There are over 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:

Donate

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. 

Read Aadil's story

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 Kulamani's Story