Leprosy is a disease mainly caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, which causes damage to the skin and the peripheral nervous system. The disease develops slowly (from six months to 40 years) and results in skin lesions and deformities, most often affecting the cooler places on the body (for example, eyes, nose, earlobes, hands, feet, and testicles).
The skin lesions and deformities can be very disfiguring and are the reason that infected individuals historically were considered outcasts in many cultures.
Although human-to-human transmission is the primary source of infection, three other species can carry and (rarely) transfer M.leprae to humans: chimpanzees, mangabey monkeys, and nine-banded armadillos.
Leprosy is contagious but is considered to be only mildly contagious. However, acquisition of the disease usually occurs after long-term (months to years) contact with an untreated individual with the disease. It is passed from person to person via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with an untreated individual with leprosy.
In 1873, Dr. Hansen discovered bacteria in leprosy lesions, suggesting leprosy was an infectious disease, not a hereditary disease or a punishment from the gods. However, patients with the disease were still ostracized by many societies and cared for only at missions by religious personnel.
Leprosy is curable with a treatment known as multidrug therapy. Treatment for paucibacillary leprosy is with the medications dapsone and rifampicin for six months. Treatment for multibacillary leprosy consists of rifampicin, dapsone, and clofazimine for 12 months. A number of other antibiotics may also be used. These treatments are provided free of charge by the World Health Organization.
India was one of the first countries to have acted against leprosy. India enacted the Leprosy Act of 1898 which institutionalized those affected and segregated them by gender to prevent reproduction. The Act was difficult to enforce but was repealed in 1983 only after MDT therapy had become widely available. In 1983, the National Leprosy Elimination Programme, previously the National Leprosy Control Programme, changed its methods from surveillance to the treatment of people with leprosy. India still accounts for over half of the global disease burden. In India,Maharashtra Dr.Babasaheb Amte was the first to start rehabilitation centre for Leprosy patients.
The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling or being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, the victim of exploitation, corruption, poverty, and disease.