The Centuries Old Stigma Against Hansen’s Disease Hasn’t Disappeared

According to a story from, a recent report has revealed that there are twenty countries across the world that still discriminate against people with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy. This is not just a cultural phenomenon; these countries actually have laws in place that discriminate against people with the disease. This information comes from Alice Cruz, a UN Special Reporter whose position is specifically dedicated to the eradication of discrimination and stigma surrounding Hansen’s disease.

Hansen’s disease has been a part of human society since the ancient world. It is caused by a long term bacterial infection. In the infection, granulomas form on the skin, respiratory tract, nerves, and eyes. Poor eyesight and general weakness are often present also. Untreated Hansen’s can cause permanent damage to the affected areas. Many people with this disease lose some of their ability to feel pain. This often causes secondary infections from unnoticed or repetitive injuries, often causing tissue loss in the limbs. The disease is curable with multidrug therapy. To learn more about Hansen’s disease, click here.

The long history of Hansen’s disease and the unsightly granulomas that it forms have caused a culture of discrimination to develop around the condition. The disease was highly feared and was regarded as extremely contagious. Historically, people with Hansen’s disease were taken away from regular society and isolated in so-called leprosy colonies. Essentially, sufferers were left in these areas to die in many cases. While the illness can spread from person to person like any other infection, it is not unusually contagious compared to other diseases. In some areas of the world, particularly where accurate information and medical treatment are not widely available, people with Hansen’s are still isolated into colonies.

On Friday, January 26th, 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a renewed call for new national initiatives that will help educate the public about Hansen’s disease and dispel common myths about the illness. They also plan to increase their efforts in early detection and case identification. The WHO also provides treatment for the disease free of charge. Sunday, January 28th was World Leprosy Day, another event aimed at increasing awareness.

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