Elimination of Leprosy Needs Greater Commitment, Pope Says

Appeals on World Day of Solidarity with Sufferers

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II today appealed for every possible effort to be made to eliminate leprosy, a sickness that infects 2,000 new patients every day.

«Diseases continue to spread that, in theory, have already been defeated, such as Hansen´s disease, commonly known as leprosy,» the Pontiff said, addressing pilgrims gathered in St. Peter´s Square to pray the Angelus.

The Holy Father explained that he was making his appeal on the World Day of Solidarity with Leprosy Sufferers, an initiative that seeks to «keep the attention of public opinion on all those who have been stricken by this illness and to encourage efforts to defeat it completely.»

According to the missionary agency Fides, in «these times of cloning and manipulation of genes, leprosy has still to be eliminated, in fact there are parts of the world where it is spreading.»

There are 11 million leprosy sufferers in the world, 750,000 of whom are seriously affected. The disease has been curable for decades. Yet every day there are 2,000 new cases and at least another 2,000 cases not recognized, or not reported out of fear. In about 250,000 cases, diagnosis is made when the disease has already caused permanent disability.

Full treatment for one leper costs $112. The hardest-hit countries are often too poor to pay for the treatment. Fides charged «that pharmaceutics industries are not interested in investing money to accelerate research for a vaccine for the poor people of the earth.» Humanitarian workers care for half the world´s lepers.

The World Health Organization says leprosy exists in 91 countries; in 25 it is endemic. India is most affected with 75% of the cases, followed by Brazil with 7%. Countries registering the most new cases per capita are Madagascar (48.2 for every 100,000); India (46.8); Mozambique (33.6); Nepal (27.8); Brazil (25.4); Guinea (26.7); and Myanmar (22.5).

World Day of Solidarity with Leprosy Sufferers was first called in 1954 by Raoul Follereau, also known as the apostle of lepers. The day is observed in 150 countries.

The Catholic Church runs 875 centers for leprosy patients, including 339 in Africa, 282 in India, and 37 in Brazil.

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