THE Leprosy Mission has raised more than £4 million to treat the disease and tackle stigma in communities in Nepal after the UK Government match-funded £2 million in public donations.
More than 210,000 new cases of leprosy were treated in 2017, the World Health Organization reports. But agencies warn that thousands more cases may go undiagnosed in poorer communities that have no access to health services, or in which people with the disease are marginalised. Leprosy, which can cause severe disability, is mildly infectious, but, since 1982, it has been curable through a combination of three antibiotics.
The Leprosy Mission’s campaign “Heal Nepal” ran from January to April this year. Its national director, Peter Waddup, said: “The unprecedented amount raised by the public . . . offers real hope of ending leprosy in Nepal. The money will train and fund outreach workers to go into remote communities to find and cure leprosy before the ancient disease causes people to develop lifelong disabilities, including blindness.”
The International Development Minister, Andrew Murrison, said: “I am delighted the UK Government has aid-matched the Leprosy Mission’s Heal Nepal appeal, helping to raise a total of £4.15 million. This will give people living with leprosy in Nepal’s poorest communities the chance of a future free of this devastating disease.”
A couple who married after working together at Anandaban Hospital in Nepal, Murdo and Rachel Macdonald, welcomed the announcement. Mr Macdonald said: “Anandaban Hospital is incredibly close to our hearts; so we are thrilled that so much money has been raised to support it through UK aid-match funding.”
Leprosy MissionRachel Macdonald
Two of their three children were born in Nepal. Mrs Macdonald said: “Because we lived on the hospital compound, our work and home life was all intertwined. Our children would happily play with patients or their children. Many patients were often overwhelmed to finally have physical contact with another human being because they had been so ostracised in their communities.
“The stigma is so great; people with symptoms tend to avoid seeking treatment because they don’t want to be diagnosed. It’s frustrating, because it is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics — and the earlier you come, the better the outcome.”
Mr Macdonald, who now works for the Church of Scotland, said that many people in the UK thought of leprosy as a “disease of the past. We read about it in the Bible, or we see it portrayed on Horrible Histories, with bits falling off people . . . but it is also a disease that still causes a lot of devastation. Once it’s diagnosed it is treatable, but just getting people to come forward for diagnosis is one of the problems.”