Myth, misconception, prejudice and stigma thrive in the absence of knowledge. For centuries we knew very little about the condition called leprosy, or Hansen’s disease. We knew only that we had no cure, and that we profoundly feared its disfiguring effects. Some suspected it was a form of divine punishment. Those living with the condition were shunned by their communities and physically isolated from the rest of humanity. In my home city, Cape Town, the island prison that was to hold Nelson Mandela for a large portion of the 20th century was once a leprosy colony.
Today, many of us know that leprosy is a mildly infectious bacterial disease mainly affecting the skin and peripheral nerves. It is completely curable, and with early diagnosis and treatment it leaves no trace.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of believing that because we know the truth about leprosy, everyone knows it. Too many people affected by leprosy continue to face discrimination and marginalization. Too many people still don’t know!
We need to spread the knowledge, and help people to think about leprosy for what it is: A curable disease. Working together we can end the misconceptions, dispel the myths and make leprosy history.
Think Leprosy Now!