Saturday, April 07, 2007

Erasing the Stigma of Leprosy

Most people are naturally immune to the disease leprosy. A person can contact leprosy only if he or she belongs to the small segment of the world's populations, which is roughly five to ten percent with the lowest levels of immunity, and has been exposed to an untreated patient constantly and repeatedly. Leprosy is first mentioned in the Bible in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 13. The passage enjoined the Jewish people to regard anyone who has leprosy as unclean and one that should be banished from the company of others. This became, in years later, the rationale for the segregation of known lepers from normal society among the Christians in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Modern scientists however believe that the skin disease described in the Bible is not really leprosy but may instead refer to all kinds of soft skin ailments. in fact, the Hebrew translation of the term used for leprosy means dirty skin. This alone makes leprosy so stigmatized. People who get sick of leprosy are considered sinful and consequently, suffering from the wrath of God. Erasing the stigma of leprosy, which is as old as the disease itself, requires concerted and consistent efforts. Attitudes can be very difficult to change and have caused limitations in the progress of the National Leprosy Control Program. In the Department of Health for instance, health education given to health workers must continuously include facts about the disease in order to erase fears and change attitudes. Even health workers who know that leprosy is only mildly communicable do not want to be near ex-patients to talk about the disease or even mention the illness. So this culture must indeed be changed.



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