Down through the pages of human history, no affliction of man has inspired more dread, more disgust, more revulsion than leprosy. From Biblical times even to this very day in many places in the world, those who contract leprosy are not merely pitied but are shunned, abandoned, ostracized, persecuted, even feared. Not only regarded as a horrifying affliction of the physical body, in many cultures it is traditionally associated with diseases of the soul: sin, bad karma, a curse inflicted on one who knowingly or not has somehow offended in this life or a previous existence, and deserves this unthinkable punishment. Even called "the living death", it is considered a fate far worse than dying. Rejected by all whom they loved or knew, the victim wanders the streets alone, enduring the hurled stones and curse words, begging even for a morsel of food or a sip of water. In most developed countries, leprosy is so exceedingly rare that even the very concept seems like but a shadowy myth whose origins are shrouded in mystery and vanished long ago into the swirling mists of time. But it is a very real disease that affects hundreds of thousands of living souls throughout the world today.
What Is Leprosy?
Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, is a chronic infectious disease of the skin and nerves. It is caused by the organism mycobacterium leprae.
Starting as a light-colored, insensitive patch of skin, the disease progresses as the bacteria multiply and invade the nerves below the skin. Soon, the victim experiences loss of the sensation of touch in the extremities, which gives rise to a host of complications. Without pain as a warning, everyday activities such as work or cooking frequently produce unrealized injuries like cuts and burns.
These wounds often go untreated and become seriously infected. Eventually, the infections lead to loss of fingers or toes, one of the hallmarks of the disease. Damaged nerves lead to weakness and disability of the limbs. Facial deformities and vision impairment are also common with advanced leprosy.
The leprosy bacteria cause other deformities such as affecting the facial features.
Is Leprosy Contagious?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it can be spread from person to person, possibly through airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing (CDC's page on leprosy transmission). However, there is evidence that up to 95% of adults won't get leprosy even if exposed to the bacteria, says CDC's page on leprosy exposure.
Is There A Cure For Leprosy?
The bacteria which cause leprosy can be killed using a combination of drugs, called multidrug therapy (MDT). The World Health Organization supplies these drugs free of charge in countries where leprosy is endemic (World Health Organization page on leprosy treatment). However, victims with advanced leprosy often have nerve damage, disabilities, disfigurement, and other complications that can't be so easily reversed.
How Did ICII Get Involved In Leprosy Ministry?
One day about eleven years ago, while trying to do ministry in a very unreceptive village, the ICII team met a woman named Udaiyammal who had leprosy. Kathy touched her, and the village people, who shunned Udaiyammal as an "untouchable", were so amazed and curious about what Kathy was doing that they gathered around to see. When they saw Kathy and Pastor Britto showing Udaiyammal compassion and bandaging her wounds, they opened up to us, and allowed us to minister in the whole village.
What IS ICII Doing About Leprosy?
ICII is involved in many kinds or outreach to help those with leprosy. We provide food, clothing and medical help to victims who live in government and private colonies and to those who are homeless. We also operate our own shelter, called the Promised Land Leprosy Community, and we have a weekly church service for those with leprosy. You can learn more by clicking on the links below.