World Leprosy Day: History, Significance

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Feb 28, 2022, 9:40

The last Sunday in the month of January is celebrated as World Leprosy Day every year. World Leprosy Day, in 2022, was celebrated on January 30. It is an international day recognized by the United Nations that is celebrated to spread awareness on leprosy and call for eradicating all the stigma, apprehensions, and discrimination associated with leprosy.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's Disease, is a chronic, infectious disease that attacks the body's nervous system, specifically on the cooler areas of the body, such as the facial area and the limbs. Although this is a completely curable disease, leprosy was thought to be contagious and deadly for a long time. This is one of the major reasons that led the United Nations to act against the discrimination against patients suffering from leprosy through numerous awareness programs. Interestingly, leprosy is one of the world's oldest recordable diseases.

The date - last Saturday of January - was chosen by a French humanitarian named Raoul Follereau as a tribute to the Indian Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who had a deep understanding of leprosy and treated leprosy-affected people with compassion, especially at a time when the latter were treated as untouchables.

World Leprosy Day 2022 - United for Dignity

Like most other international days celebrated by the United Nations, World Leprosy Day is also celebrated annually, adhering to the pre-decided themes. The theme for this year - 2022 - was United for Dignity. The campaign called for unity in appreciating the dignity of people who are and had been affected with leprosy. Through the campaign, the UN aims to honour the people who have lived with leprosy and -

  • shared their empowering journey.
  • advocated mental wellbeing and championed the right to live a dignified life bereft of any leprosy-related stigma.

Key Messages on World Leprosy Eradication Day

Through World Leprosy Day, as said earlier, the United Nations wishes to raise awareness on leprosy and eradicate the discrimination against people who have dealt with or are dealing with leprosy. Here are the key messages behind the celebration of Leprosy Eradication Day -

  • Working together to lift the voices and appreciate the experiences of people who have experienced leprosy.
  • Due to the deep stigma, people affected by leprosy face unacceptable mental health challenges and isolation.
  • People who have been affected with leprosy have the right to lead a dignified life bereft of any disease-related discrimination, isolation, and stigma.

Does Leprosy Exist Today?

One of the oldest recorded diseases in the world, leprosy is still a reality. As of 2020, nearly 208,000 people worldwide were infected with Hansen's disease or leprosy. According to the World Health Organization, the population was more concentrated in Asia and Africa. Notably, about 100 people are found to be affected with leprosy annually in the United States every year. The numbers are more in California, Hawaii, and other southern US territories.

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FAQs on World Leprosy Day

Q.1) When is World Leprosy Day celebrated?

World Leprosy Eradication Day is celebrated every year on the last Saturday of January.

Q.2) On whose memory was World Leprosy Day chosen?

World Leprosy Day was chosen by a French humanitarian named Raoul Follereau as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, who had a deep understanding of leprosy and treated leprosy-affected people with compassion.

Q.3) What challenges do the patients with leprosy suffer from?

Apart from the mental challenges that come as a part of the stigma associated with leprosy, the people experiencing leprosy also suffer from isolation and terrible discrimination that is sometimes lifelong.