Hansen’s disease is very rare today and, with early diagnosis, it can be treated and cured.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around two million people worldwide are disabled due to Hansen’s disease. The countries where the disease is most widespread are Tanzania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Brazil.
Though Hansen’s disease is now known to not be as contagious as once thought, it still has a strong social stigma attached to it.
Turkson said, “multi-drug therapy has proven successful and effective in curing leprosy and has afforded much hope. Health care, in addition to treating the physical ailments of the person, must also consider the social and psychological dimensions.”
“The health care community in particular, and society as a whole, offer a tremendous service to the common good when they help facilitate this process of personal integration for those who suffer from leprosy and their families,” the cardinal wrote.
French philanthropist Raoul Follereau established World Leprosy Day in 1954. He chose Jan. 30, the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s death, as the day for the event in honor of the Indian leader who reached out to leprosy sufferers.
Pointing to the story of Jesus Christ’s healing of the lepers in the Gospel of St. Luke, Turkson noted that “when Christ brings healing to the man with leprosy in the Gospel, he applies the salve of human dignity in addition to the physical remedy.”
“It becomes an event that touches the entire person and the effects are far reaching,” he continued. “When the Church speaks of God’s generous offer of salvation, that gift is described as both universal and integral.”
Explaining that many patients with leprosy experience social exclusion, depression, and loss of income, Turkson said that “promoting the inclusion of all persons in society and assuring integration in the community remain priorities.”
He quoted Pope Francis, who wrote in his recent encyclical “Fratelli tutti” that “every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive, or were born with or developed limitations.”