THE former prima ballerina Dame Darcey Bussell is championing a new campaign to rid Mozambique of leprosy and the prejudice attached to it.
The campaign, the Unconditional Appeal by the Leprosy Mission, has been recognised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which will match all donations pound for pound until 24 April.
Dame Darcey first learned about the debilitating effects of leprosy in 2017, in conversation with a London vicar, who inspired her to meet people affected by the disease and hear their stories. During a family holiday in Mozambique, she took her two teenage daughters to see work by the Leprosy Mission charity.
“What I didn’t expect was for this encounter to change me so much,” she said. “The injustice experienced by so many people with leprosy has weighed heavy on my heart since.”
The Unconditional Appeal is for cash to increase awareness of the disease, change attitudes, and improve access to treatment. Leprosy can be cured with an antibiotic which has been available since the 1980s, but it persists through a lack of healthcare, awareness, and age-old stigma.
The appeal will train and equip “Leprosy Changemakers” in Mozambique, recruited from among health workers, traditional healers, religious leaders, public speakers, and volunteers.
Mozambique is the seventh most deprived country in the world. Almost a third of the population is malnourished, and literacy levels are low.
Dame Darcey said: “It takes more than improved access to healthcare to end leprosy in countries like Mozambique. It takes a real sea change of attitudes, a desire within a community to end centuries of discrimination. . .
“By partnering with communities on the ground and shining a light on leprosy, we can make a desire to end this cruel disease a reality.”
The FCDO Minister, Wendy Morton, said that the Government was happy “to help overturn centuries of prejudice and help rid Mozambique of this ancient disease. For too long this neglected but debilitating disease has been overlooked. Leprosy should not continue to blight lives in the 21st century.”
The Leprosy Mission has highlighted the story of Zaina, who was ostracised from her village in the Cabo Delgado, the northern province of Mozambique, when villagers spotted discoloured patches on her skin. She was forced to live in the forest, and her young son was taken from her.
A stranger found her, built her a hut, and took her to a medical post where her leprosy was healed. A key moment came when volunteers with the Leprosy Mission went to her village to demythologise the disease. Zaina was able to return, and has now trained as a Changemaker. She is able to recognise the early signs of leprosy and ensure that the sufferer knows how to be cured, as well as fighting the stigma attached to the condition.