THIS WORLD LEPROSY DAY, WE CAN BE GRATEFUL TO ALL THOSE WHO WORKED TIRELESSLY TO ERADICATE LEPROSY. BUT THE ANCIENT DISEASE STILL REMAINS A CHALLENGE FOR THE CHURCH, SAYS CHARLES CHRISTIAN
nclean – that is what they called him. He did not remember his other name. They had cast him outside the city walls, left him in torn clothes many years back, after the priest had examined him and announced him to be “tamei” (Hebrew for unclean). Days passed by. Rejection. Frustration. Was it his fate? He longed for company. But isolation was the only company he had. He was commanded to announce himself “unclean, unclean” at the sight of a human being. But he did not follow the priest’s command that day. He saw a man climbing down the mountain. Or was he really a man? For he called him “Lord.” Perhaps, out of excitement to receive his healing somehow. He requested, “if you are willing, you can make me clean.” One last hope, one last possibility. The “Lord” stopped to hear him. He even touched him. Touch. This is what he has longed for all these years – a human touch. No, it was a divine touch. He was healed. No more unclean. No more isolated. He was touched, included, accepted, “cleansed” (find the story in Matthew 18:1-4).
Just one month after celebrating the birth of this Healer, the world will remember those still “lying outside the camp”, waiting to be healed, by observing the World Leprosy Day on January 25. Leprosy, though officially eliminated in 2005, is still one of the most chronic and marginalising diseases in today’s India. Some figures reveal its extent:
- According to WHO’s report in 2011, 55% of leprosy cases in the world are in India, which still remains in the “pocket of high endemicity”.
- 1, 27, 000 new cases of leprosy were reported in India between 2010-11.
- In 2013, there were 2, 15, 557 new cases of leprosy diagnosed globally, around one every two minutes. More than half of these new diagnoses were in India.
Effective treatment of leprosy has been available since 1982, but the above numbers state a different story.
Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody.” Leprosy is more than a health-related issue. It extends to one’s very existence in society. Lack of knowledge about it often results in stigmatisation and discrimination of the victims, and even their family-members. In India, it is often seen as a divine curse or punishment for past sins, and misunderstood as an incurable and highly infectious disease, spreading through even sharing water and food. Victims are often ostracised. Their prospects of education, employment, marriage and relationship with other members of the family are all affected. Their children are frequently shunned in schools.
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