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An interview with Suzanne McCarthy

22 January 2021

This World Leprosy Day (WLD), we are celebrating the resilience of those affected by leprosy and highlighting the work we do to find, diagnose, treat and support those in need. This annual event raises awareness across the globe of the plight of those affected by leprosy and the importance of Lepra's work.

Suzanne McCarthy joined Lepra in late 2020 and is celebrating her first World Leprosy Day as Chair of Trustees. With a diverse and interesting background, including working as a lawyer, lecturer, secretary at the Home Office and the HM Treasury and operating as the CEO of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, Suzanne joins us with a wealth of experience and knowledge. In addition to her law qualifications, Suzanne also has a MSc in International Development and Project Management and is the Chair of DePaul UK, a homeless charity focused primarily on young people.

On Suzanne's first WLD, we learn why she is keen to bring energy and passion to Lepra and help the charity grow. She says:

“I want to carry on the excellent work done by the previous Chair, Charles Bland, and the Board and continue to build greater awareness of the issues. Also, in delivering the first year of the Joint Strategic Plan with Lepra Society, I hope that together we will be able to make a serious contribution towards ending disability due to leprosy and the prejudice directed towards people affected by leprosy.”

Charity remains an important aspect of what drives Suzanne to do what she does and a large part of why she is devoted to making Lepra as efficient and effective as possible.

“Charity is one of the best ways to make the world better, by helping communities and empowering people. I want to be part of that effort. For the last six years, I have been the Chair of De Paul UK, a national homeless charity with a primary focus on youth. DePaul’s efforts have changed lives, and I want to bring the same energy and focus that I have given to DePaul to Lepra.”

Why Lepra?

"Undoubtedly, coming on board as Chair of Trustees for any charity can be daunting, but especially during a global pandemic. It is always hard to do everything virtually, but the Lepra Board Members, especially the CEO, Geoff Prescott, and those at Lepra Society have made my induction as smooth as possible. I must especially thank Charles Bland, the previous Chair, for his excellent advice and support.”

There is a great deal of symmetry between De Paul UK and Lepra, in working to make people’s lives better by working with individuals to empower and support them. Suzanne is focused on building on Lepra’s previous success and making the charities impact even stronger globally.

“What Lepra does is extremely important. While I have never had leprosy, I had an auto immune disease which seriously affected my skin. For a long time, no one knew what was wrong. Finally, a specialist diagnosed it and treated it, but I was on steroids for ten years! That personal experience gave me some understanding of what it might be like for those affected by leprosy.”

2021 goals

Lepra remains cautiously optimistic of the year ahead, with plans to extend our work testing for COVID-19, along with our regular activities such as active case finding, diagnosis and psychological support.

Of the future, Suzanne says:

“Ultimately, I want Lepra’s work to be done. I want us to reach the point where Lepra is no longer needed because leprosy has become a disease of very little consequence. Success for Lepra would be the end to disabilities and an end to the prejudice against those who are affected by leprosy.”