Interesting Facts About World Leprosy Day: Raise Awareness

World Leprosy Day is observed on the last Sunday of January each year. Established in 1954 by French philanthropist Raoul Follereau, it aims to raise awareness about leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) and teach people about this ancient disease and that it is easily curable today.
All of us have heard about leprosy, and usually associate it with a sickly and deformed person, shying away from the world at large. However, there is more to the condition than just deformity. The stigma attached with the disease prevents the afflicted from being productive members of the society and pushes them into poverty.
While rare in the United States, many people around the world continue to suffer from this curable disease due to lack of access to basic medical care and continued stigma surrounding the illness.
Here are some interesting facts about World Leprosy Day:
1. Leprosy is one of the oldest and most stigmatized diseases the world over. It is also known as Hansen’s Disease named after the scientist who discovered it – Armauer Hansen. It is a chronic infectious disease that primarily affects the nervous system and numbs the extremities in the exposed parts of the body like the hands, feet and face.
2. On this day, organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) hold public and educational outreach events where they give people information about how to prevent the spread of the disease. Doctors and other medical professionals spend time talking to the public about how to recognize the symptoms of leprosy.
Organizations also hold rallies and marathons to raise money for research and providing treatment and rehabilitate those afflicted with the disease. In addition, seminars and workshops are held around the world to address the problems faced by leprosy patients and to find ways to reduce the social stigma faced by them.
3. World Leprosy Day is not an official holiday so businesses, schools and government offices are open.
4. The date for World Leprosy Day was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Indian freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi worked tirelessly towards the betterment of people afflicted with leprosy.
5. Leprosy affected 212 000 more people globally in 2015. Of them 60% were in India. The other high-burden countries were Brazil and Indonesia. Of the new cases 8.9% were children and 6.7% presented with visible deformities.
This year, WHO urges countries to scale-up interventions with a focus to avoid transmission of leprosy. An intensified, all-inclusive approach can prevent thousands of infections every year.
6. Approximately 5,000 people in the U.S. have been cured, but suffer from the long-term complications of Hansen’s disease, like paralysis and blindness, and continue to receive care through outpatient clinics and private physicians.

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