If left untreated, leprosy goes on to damage the large nerves in the elbow, wrist, knee and ankle. The resulting damage can lead to loss of sensation in the hands and feet and muscle paralysis, which causes clawed fingers and foot drop. Loss of sensation in the hands and feet means everyday activities are fraught with danger – burns go unrecognised and stones in shoes unnoticed leading to ulcers developing. These can be difficult to heal and become infected, often leading to the shortening of fingers and toes or ultimately, amputation of limbs.
Leprosy can damage nerves in the face causing the eyelid muscles to stop working. The eyes are no longer protected by the blinking mechanism and can become easily damaged, which eventually leads to blindness. Leprosy can also damage the bones of the nose causing it to collapse and flatten, a common facial trait witnessed in people affected by leprosy.
In some countries, largely due to myths and superstitions, there is a great deal of fear associated with leprosy – people diagnosed with the disease can be stigmatised, rejected by their families and communities. They may lose their jobs and end up without a source of income, some lose their homes. Even today leprosy-affected people may end up living as outcasts in leprosy colonies. The Leprosy Mission cares for the whole person – we are a holistic charity, focusing on the physical, social, spiritual and psychological needs of leprosy-affected people.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.
The Leprosy Mission Northern Ireland is committed to eradicating leprosy, one of 18 diseases formally recognised as a Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD).