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How 150-years of leprosy care can help us in a Covid-19 world 30th March, 2020

Covid-19 is very different from leprosy. Covid-19 is a highly contagious viral disease and leprosy is a mildly infectious bacterial disease that 95% of the world population is immune to. Although the two are very different scientifically, the social consequences run almost parallel as isolation takes hold.

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Like Covid-19, leprosy is a disease that often sees the people affected face isolation. Because leprosy is a mildly infectious disease, this isolation is often devastating and always unwarranted and The Leprosy Mission continues to work each day to break that down.

Remember people affected by leprosy in these difficult times. Unlike those of us in lockdown, the isolation they feel often seems to have no end in sight. But the work of The Leprosy Mission worldwide, through stigma reduction and awareness raising, has helped to end that isolation for many people affected by leprosy.

Our work in that struggle against isolation is informed by our Christian faith, and there are tools that we have learnt which may prove helpful as our society continues to tackle Covid-19.

Truth washes away stigma and isolation

Informing communities about the scientific reality of leprosy as a mildly infectious and curable disease has helped to reunite families and friends. Likewise, with Covid-19, informing ourselves of and following the guidance of scientists, governments, and other authorities will help us to remain calm, caring, and safe at this challenging time.

While knowledge and education might sound very basic, this tool is a silver bullet in our battle against leprosy and our battle against Covid-19. Everyone worldwide has a responsibility to ensure they understand the symptoms of Covid-19 and then act accordingly. We have seen that sharing misinformation within leprosy-affected communities has dire consequences, both in terms of stigma and the continued spread of the disease.

Loving attitudes make an enormous difference

We know that a loving approach to leprosy has transformed many lives in the fight against the disease. Often people affected by leprosy are completely rejected by their friends and family. Our Christ-centred approach has helped to change that by showing them love and care. Once more, with Covid-19, a similar approach would have a dramatic effect as we care for and consider people in our communities, particularly the most vulnerable.

In leprosy work this means administering treatment, caring for people in their suffering, and rehabilitating them afterwards so that they can live full lives. For Covid-19 this could mean sensible supermarket shopping, conscientious social distancing, and care for those who are the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities.

Leprosy is very, very different from Covid-19

Since the first outbreak of Covid-19 we have heard people saying that they ‘feel like lepers’ because of the isolation they have had to face. Meanwhile, there have been others who have called for self-isolation like those affected by leprosy in the Bible.

We want to communicate two very important messages:

  1. It’s important that we never use the term ‘leper’. It is a term that reduces people to merely the diagnosis they have received and no one deserves to be treated that way. We must also stop saying that we ‘feel like lepers’ because this is hugely insulting to the millions of people worldwide who have faced a leprosy diagnosis.
  2. Comparing COVID-19 to leprosy is unwarranted because this is not an accurate comparison and because this comparison perpetuates the idea that leprosy is a contagious disease; it’s not a contagious disease and 95% of the world population is immune to it.

Drawing inspiration from people affected by leprosy

Although these are challenging times for many people worldwide, we can have faith that we will see light at the end of the tunnel. We can also take inspiration from the many people affected by leprosy who have overcome the horrible physical and social consequences of leprosy to live full lives. Leprosy can be overcome and so can Covid-19. That spirit can help to sustain us in these difficult days.

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