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How Land Rovers Helped Fight Leprosy

14 November 2022

For Giving ‘Shoesday’, we look back at Lepra’s pioneering approach to healthcare in remote areas of the world. 

Often the most vulnerable communities who are most susceptible to leprosy, are also the most geographically isolated

For decades, Lepra have understood the importance of providing services to people who are without the ability or means to travel to regional medical centres, which historically have often lacked the specialist knowledge to correctly diagnose and treat people affected by leprosy.

To this day, the provision of specialist services within remote communities remains one of Lepra’s key aims, vital to the successful control of leprosy in the longer term. A range of important services are delivered remotely including; awareness raising campaigns, early case detection, the provision of Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) medication, emotional healthcare, teaching self-care practice and of course, our mobile custom-made footwear

During the 1960s, the humble Land Rover enabled Lepra to reach largely inaccessible areas in Africa, such as Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and the Republic of Zambia. Lepra’s three Land Rovers, used in Malawi, were painted with LEPRA in large, distinctive red lettering on the side. 

Before the introduction of the Lepra Land Rover in Malawi, Lepra’s medics were able to visit fewer than 50% of reported cases. The vehicles served as mobile field clinics, which over the course of 1965-1975, enabled the charity to double the number of people treated for leprosy

Lepra’s archivist, Jane Hadcock explains -

Prejudice and discrimination became non-existent because the Land Rover became a beacon to villagers and townspeople – something to celebrate rather than shy away from. Land Rovers started a revolution in the treatment of leprosy, and we therefore see them as a very positive part of our history.

Lepra’s Land Rovers became an icon, a symbol of hope for a neglected people who otherwise would be destined to develop serious disabilities and other health complications, which would impact their lives in unimaginable ways.

As a sign of its place in the national collective consciousness, in the late 70s, Corgi Toys even made a model version of the Lepra Land Rover, which is now a rare collectable. If you happen to own one of these scarce collectables, please do get in contact, we would love to hear from you!

In September, Land Rover Owner International Magazine (LRO) covered the history of Lepra’s pioneering use of these amazing vehicles. In preparation for our centenary in 2024, we are on the lookout for a UK-based Series Land Rover owner to take part. We hope LRO magazine can help to match us with a willing owner! Read more here: