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World Leprosy Day: #ZeroDisabilities

Every year on the last Sunday of January, World Leprosy Day calls attention to a disease was long ago eradicated in the Western world. But for many people across the globe, it continues to represent a terrible reality. The focus of this year’s World Leprosy Day is on the children that suffer from the disabilities caused by leprosy.

Up to 11 % of children affected by leprosy have visible impairments.


Leprosy is an ancient disease, and is even mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament of the Bible. The infectious disease counts among the neglected tropical diseases and occurs above all in the world’s poorest regions – and is curable. Despite this, more than 200,000 people around the world are newly infected with leprosy every year.

One in every ten patients is a child
About one in ten leprosy patients is a child. According to the official data and statistics on leprosy for 2016 from the World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 18,230 children were newly diagnosed with leprosy in the course of the year. Some of these children will already have been suffering from visible disabilities. The average age at which children become infected is between ten and fourteen. Most are infected in their own households; however, if they have had prolonged and close contact with a sick person, infection can also occur outside of the family. “The transmission of leprosy to children is an important indicator that leprosy is still being actively transmitted within a community. The fact that children continue to become infected with leprosy proves that, in order to curb or even eliminate the spread of leprosy, the programmes must be ongoingly improved as well made more effective,” says FAIRMED programme manager and epidemiologist, Dr Marc Bonenberger.

Preventing disability
If not promptly diagnosed and treated, the disease results in nerve damage that eventually causes severe disabilities. Affected individuals suffer from permanent numbness in the limbs, visual impairments as well as deformities and disfigurements of the hands and feet (e.g. claw hand and drop foot). At present, treatment of leprosy involves multidrug therapies that comprise a range of antibiotics. While safe for children, this form of treatment takes a relatively long time to complete and has numerous side effects. Depending on the progression of the disease, physiotherapy is also used to prevent complications, deformities and associated disabilities. The measures pursued to date will be complemented by the strategy developed by the WHO in 2016, which is aimed at achieving earlier diagnoses of children infected with leprosy by 2020, with the overarching objective of preventing disabilities.

Combating leprosy for 59 years
FAIRMED – formerly Leprosy Relief Emmaus Switzerland – has been committed to combating leprosy in Asian and African countries for 59 years. FAIRMED supports various leprosy programmes aimed at stemming the disease, and at early detection and treatment, the improvement of treatment, and rehabilitation programmes for people suffering from leprosy-related disabilities. In addition, FAIRMED participates in research programmes such as the study for the leprosy vaccine that has been underway in the US since mid-October 2017.

Test your knowledge with our World-Leprosy-Day Quiz 2018!


How is leprosy transmitted? What are the symptoms of leprosy? And what are the consequences of leprosy? Learn more about the disease: What is leprosy?