To educate, challenge and involve the people of Northern Ireland in the Christ-like and unique mission of The Leprosy Mission worldwide, and to contribute to its overall operations and development.
The Leprosy Mission NI
t: +44 (0)28 9262 9500
The Work Begins
An Irishman, Wellesley Bailey was teaching in the Punjab, India, when he first became aware of the tragic plight of 'lepers', living as outcasts in colonies. He writes, "I almost shuddered, yet I was at the same time fascinated and I felt, if ever there was a Christ-like work in this world, it was to go among these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the Gospel." And so the work begins.
Others catch the Vision
After labouring tirelessly for several years in what was then called a leper colony, Wellesley and his wife, Alice, returned to Dublin for rest. But so fervent was Wellesley's vision, that others soon caught it too. Alice's friends, the Pim sisters, pledged to raise Ãï¿½£30 a year. In response to that pledge of support, Wellesley printed 2,000 pamphlets entitled 'Lepers in India' to publicise the work.
Back in the Punjab Wellesley and Alice continued to try and improve the appalling conditions in the colony. As time went on, and seeing that so much more could be done Wellesley appealed to his support group in Dublin for more money. His prayers were answered. By the end of the year more than Ãï¿½£500 had been pledged for Wellesley's mission, increasing to Ãï¿½£809 in 1875.
This meant that Wellesley now had ample funds for his colony and so he started giving grants to other missionaries in India who cared for leprosy sufferers. He writes, "We felt convinced that the movement was of God, and that it was to develop into something far larger than we had ever thought of. In other words, that God had taken the lead and that we must follow."
The Mission is Official
The burden which he felt when he first came into contact with those affected with leprosy had turned quickly into a vision for when could be done to help. It was now fast becoming a reality. People's lives were being impacted. The next natural step was the need to officially formalise the Mission. And it was to do this that Wellesley returned briefly to Dublin. It would be called, 'The Mission to Lepers in India'.
However 4 years later in 1882, due to Alice's ill health, the Baileys were forced to leave India and based themselves in Edinburgh. It was from here that Wellesley liaised with the Dublin committee. Although seperated by many thousands of miles he was still very much involved in the work. So much so that in 1886 he was elected Secretary and undertook short-term visits to India to supervise the Mission's progress.
The Work Expands
The Mission's work had snowballed. However with 26 assisted stations in India and Ceylon finances were stretched. Then on April 19 news rang out of the death of a Belgian priest called Father Damien. He had contracted leprosy whilst caring for sufferers on the Pacific island of Molokai. Awareness of and support for the Mission's work rapidly increased.
Support groups sprang up in Britain, Canada and the USA. As a result the Mission was able to respond to pleas for help from Burma, China and Japan. This expansion was recognised in the society's new title - 'The Mission to Lepers in India and the East'.
New Zealand and Australian auxiliary groups were raising support and the Mission was assisting with the care of over 14,000 patients in 12 countries. Now a worldwide Mission, the limitless title of 'The Mission to Lepers' was adopted.
Wellesley Bailey, aged 71 announced his retirement, although he continued in an honorary capacity until his death in 1937. He writes, "I pray that God's abundant blessing may be poured out on this work in the days to come as it has been in the past."
Medical Advances and Treatment
In 1873 Norwegian doctor, GHA Hansen, had discovered that leprosy was caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. No cure was available but later, in the 1920's, oil from the Chaulmoogra tree was found to alleviate some of the discomforts of leprosy. This gave new hope to 'The Mission to Lepers' and the newly formed 'American Mission to Lepers' that a drug could soon be developed to combat leprosy.
It was heralded a miracle when the drug Dapsone was developed in the 1940's and tested on leprosy patients. Instead of remaining in hospital until their death, many people left, cured. However, jubilation was soon tempered by caution as some patients suffered relapses or developed a resistance to Dapsone.
While leprologists such as Dr Stanley Browne continued their research, orthopaedic surgeon Paul Brand began a pioneering work to correct the disabilities which arise from neglected leprosy, such as 'claw hand' or 'foot drop'.
The Leprosy Mission
The Mission owned 30 centres in Asia and was aiding 90 Christian missions in over 30 countries. The kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan, previously closed to foreigners, were soon to embrace the professional help of the Mission.
In order to stress that people should not be branded by their disease, the term 'leper' was dropped and The Mission to Lepers changed its title to 'The Leprosy Mission' (TLM).
A new strategy was deployed to tackle leprosy - SET (Survey, Education, Treatment). Instead of expecting people to come to leprosy clinics, health staff trained by TLM would trek to remote villages to find new cases.
A major breakthrough occurred in leprosy treatment - multidrug therapy (MDT). For most people, a six month course of tablets for the milder form of leprosy and two years for the more severe form will cure them of the disease. However, for those who suffer a disabling reaction caused by the build-up of dead bacilli in the body, additional steroid treatment is given.
Due to the success of MDT, the number of people with leprosy has fallen rapidly from some 15 million in the early 1980's to less than 2 million in 1999. CurrentlyTLM has 2,300 field staff working in over 30 countries. The World Health Organisation had hoped to see leprosy brought under control as a public health problem by the year 2000 but this was not possible. However, thanks to the prayers and financial generosity of supporters throughout the world, TLM staff have been striving to find and treat as many people as possible.
No. There are a lot of people left disabled by leprosy who need help. As well as continuing to treat newly diagnosed cases, TLM will step up prevention of disability work and reconstructive surgery. Rehabilitation schemes to help people become financially independent and respected within the community are underway. More Vocational Training Centres are also being built to help young people affected by leprosy to learn a trade and find a job more easily.