When we took our baby daughter to Dr. Hassan Osman (a university of Khartoum colleague) for immunisation, he began to explain to us the vaccines available. I said: Most important, a jab to protect her from malaria! He smiled and said: Thanks for having the confidence in my Nobel Prize chances! There is no jab to protect against malaria and the Nobel Prize beckons for the first one to provide it.
We talked about the suspicion that centres of medical research in the developed countries concentrate on diseases that affect European or US population and neglect diseases of tropical countries. An answer to that observation came in January 2012 when a conference was held in London to tackle and eradicate “Neglected Tropical Diseases”. I was disappointed because malaria was not included in the priority list; but another well-known disease was: leprosy.
One year after the London conference, the Nippon Foundation organized a well attended event on 24 January 2013 for the 8th Global Appeal for the elimination of leprosy and empowerment of people suffering from the stigma of the disease.
The venue was the Bar Association in London and the main speaker was Mr. Yohei Sasakawa (WHO Goodwill ambassador for Leprosy Elimination).
Two Indian citizens who were cured successfully attended and spoke to the gathering. A film was shown and brochures distributed explaining that World Leprosy Day was begun by a visionary Frenchman called Raoul Follereau who in 1954 wrote to both the USSR and USA suggesting that they donate the cost of one bomber each to the treatment of leprosy.
The emphasis, throughout the event was on the little known fact that leprosy is treatable and that the treatment is free. In the 1980’s an effective cure was developed and is available free of charge since 1995 through the World Health Organisation.
Also: leprosy is not highly infectious as commonly thought and is not hereditary.
There is discrimination against people with leprosy. They are isolated in “colonies” and left to waste their lives. A small success was achieved when the UK government amended its visa guidance to make it clear that having leprosy is not grounds for visa refusal.
The campaign for the human rights of leprosy sufferers is worthwhile, because society is deprived of their energy and contribution by isolating them. The stigma will gradually vanish when people realize (as I have when I attended the event) that the disease is curable, not highly contagious and not hereditary.