Vatican Official: Leprosy Still Needs Attention

Archbishop Calls for Solidarity on World Day

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ROME, JAN. 29, 2010 ( Leprosy still is not a thing of the past, and the president of the Vatican’s health care council is calling people to take Sunday as a day to be in solidarity with people who still suffer from this ancient disease.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski made this call in a letter for World Leprosy Day, to be celebrated in 2010 this Sunday.

The archbishop’s statement, for presidents of episcopal conferences and bishops who oversee health care ministry, noted: “Leprosy, known also as Hansen’s disease, in reality continues infecting annually hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. According to the most recent data published by the World Health Organization, in 2009 more than 210,000 new cases were recorded.”

This number does not include the many presumed to be ill but who are not counted in any census and are deprived of medical care, generally because of extreme poverty.

The archbishop noted that from a statistical point of view, the countries that are most affected are in Asia, South America and Africa. India has the greatest number of affected people, followed by Brazil. Numerous cases are recorded also in Angola, Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania.
“Hansen’s disease is an ‘ancient’ illness, but, because of this, no less devastating physically and also morally,” Archbishop Zimowski reflected. “In all ages and civilizations, the fate of the leprosy sufferer is marginalization, being deprived of any type of social life, condemned to seeing his body disintegrate until death comes.”

The Vatican official noted how today, there is effective treatment for leprosy, and nevertheless, it continues to spread.

“Among the factors that foster its perpetuation is, certainly, individual and collective indigence, which too often implies lack of hygiene, the presence of debilitating illnesses, insufficient nutrition if not chronic hunger and the lack of timely access to medical care,” he explained. “Persisting in the social realm at the same time are fears that, in general generated by ignorance, add a heavy stigma to the already terrible burden that leprosy entails when it has already been cured.”

The archbishop appealed to the international community to take up effective strategies to stop leprosy.
He concluded with a prayer: “May Mary Salus Infirmorum [health of the sick] sustain the sick in the difficult struggle against suffering and the penury caused by the disease and be able to tear the veil of silence with an always growing number of acts of true solidarity in favor of persons affected by leprosy.”

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