“In Africa, even if leprosy is still prevalent in some countries such as Madagascar, Nigeria, DR Congo, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, the problems of stigmatization and exclusion are decreasing,” said Father Donald Zagore, SMA missionary in Togo, on the occasion of the 66th World Leprosy Day, which is celebrated on Sunday 27 January. His remarks were carried in a January 25, 2019, article by Fides News Agency.
“Today is an opportunity to remember the commitment of the Church in general, and of missionaries in particular, in the fight against the eradication of leprosy and, on the other hand, against the stigmatization and exclusion of men and women suffering from leprosy in Africa,” Fr. Zagore said.
Every two minutes in the world a person is hit by Hansen’s disease. According to data on leprosy in the world, published by the World Health Organization, in 2017 the highest concentration of the disease was in 14 countries which alone account for 95% of new cases. India is the most affected country with 135,485 cases, followed by Brazil with 25,218 cases and Indonesia with 16,826 cases. In 2016, 32 new cases of infection were recorded in Europe.
“For a long time, men and women suffering from leprosy in Africa suffered twice. On the one hand, physical suffering because infected by leprosy, and on the other the moral and psychological suffering because excluded from the community because of their illness,” the missionary said.
“That on the stigmatization of the sick, in the past rejected by society, is one of the greatest victories of the Church’s work of evangelization in Africa. The zealous and unconditional commitment of the missionaries, at the risk of their lives, alongside men and women living with leprosy, has brought many Africans to the awareness of the need for a cultural renewal that educates consciences. The testimony of the missionaries remains a true source of evangelization for leprosy patients. Through the missionaries, the light of the Gospel has penetrated into African culture to transform hearts”, he added.
Fr. Zagore noted: “Today the fight against exclusion and stigmatization must be extended to other areas of our African culture, such as tribalism, which today remains a disease as serious as leprosy.”