Physical Effects of Leprosy

The Isolating Impacts of Leprosy Stigma Discrimination

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is one of the oldest infectious diseases known to humanity. Its origins trace back to 2000 BC, with evidence found in osteo-archaeological remains in South Asia. The disease spread along human migration paths from Africa to Asia and Europe, and eventually to the Americas.[1]

Throughout history, leprosy has been associated with severe stigma and discrimination. This is largely due to the physical impairments it causes, such as skin and nerve damage, which led to fear, prejudice, and social isolation. The experience of patients of leprosy on stigma discrimination often forced them to live in poverty and loneliness.[2] In the Middle Ages, “Leper Masses” were held to declare that those diagnosed with leprosy were officially dead to society. This practice further entrenched the stigma associated with the disease, as it effectively ostracized patients from their communities.[3]

The Emotional Impact and Discrimination Faced by Patients

The stigma associated with leprosy has significant emotional impacts on patients. Studies have found that leprosy patients often experience depressive symptoms, anxiety disorders, and even suicidal tendencies.[4]

Feelings of fear, shame, and low self-esteem are common among those affected by the disease. These feelings can also extend to their children, who may develop negative self-concepts and low self-esteem.[5]

Moreover, the stigma can lead to self-discrimination, with patients isolating themselves from society. A study from Ghana reported that persons cured of leprosy preferred to stay in leper colonies due to self-stigma, isolation, and neglect. [6]

The Persistence of Stigma and Its Impact on Treatment and Prevention

Despite advancements in medical treatments, the stigma associated with leprosy persists today. This stigma is deeply ingrained in the conscience of communities and can hinder treatment and prevention efforts.[7]

Many people still harbor misconceptions about the disease. For instance, a study from Nepal found that only 62.6% of respondents knew that leprosy is caused by bacteria, while a significant proportion associated it with various other causes, such as bad blood, curse, heredity, and bad deeds.[8]

These misconceptions can delay diagnosis and treatment, leading to irreversible damage. A recent study found that patient delay (of more than three months) and healthcare provider delay (of more than one month) were significant risk factors for disability among adult leprosy cases.[9]

GFA World’s Role in Combating Leprosy and Its Stigma

GFA World is actively involved in efforts to combat leprosy and its associated stigma. The organization provides basic necessities to people with leprosy and works to change society’s perception of those afflicted with the disease.

GFA World’s national missionaries serve in areas where leprosy is prevalent, providing care and support to patients. They also work to educate communities about the disease, dispelling myths and misconceptions that contribute to stigma.

While significant progress has been made in the fight against leprosy, there is still much work to be done. The stigma associated with the disease continues to hinder treatment and prevention efforts, and many patients continue to suffer from the emotional impacts of discrimination.

You can help in this fight by supporting the efforts of organizations like GFA World. Your support can help provide much-needed resources for leprosy patients, fund education campaigns to dispel misconceptions about the disease, and sponsor national missionaries who are working on the front lines to combat leprosy and its stigma. Together, we can work towards a world where no one has to suffer from the physical and emotional impacts of leprosy.

Learn more about the physical effects of leprosy

[1] Santacroce, Luigi, Raffaele Del Prete, Ioannis Alexandros Charitos, and Lucrezia Bottalico. “Mycobacterium Leprae: A Historical Study on the Origins of Leprosy and Its Social Stigma.” Le Infezioni in Medicina 29, no. 4 (December 10, 2021): 623–32.
[2] Marahatta, Sujan Babu, Rakchya Amatya, Srijana Adhikari, Deena Giri, Sarina Lama, Nils Kaehler, Komal Raj Rijal, Suchana Marahatta, and Bipin Adhikari. “Perceived Stigma of Leprosy among Community Members and Health Care Providers in Lalitpur District of Nepal: A Qualitative Study.” PloS One 13, no. 12 (December 27, 2018): e0209676.
[3] Santacroce, Luigi, Raffaele Del Prete, Ioannis Alexandros Charitos, and Lucrezia Bottalico. “Mycobacterium Leprae: A Historical Study on the Origins of Leprosy and Its Social Stigma.” Le Infezioni in Medicina 29, no. 4 (December 10, 2021): 623–32.
[4] Somar, Pmw, M M Waltz, and W H van Brakel. “The Impact of Leprosy on the Mental Wellbeing of Leprosy-Affected Persons and Their Family Members – a Systematic Review.” Global Mental Health (Cambridge, England) 7 (June 9, 2020): e15.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] CDC. “World Leprosy Day.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 29, 2021.
[8] Singh, Rakesh, Babita Singh, and Sharika Mahato. “Community Knowledge, Attitude, and Perceived Stigma of Leprosy amongst Community Members Living in Dhanusha and Parsa Districts of Southern Central Nepal.” PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 13, no. 1 (January 11, 2019): e0007075.
[9] Srinivas, Govindarajulu, Thirumugam Muthuvel, Vivek Lal, Kanagasabapathy Vaikundanathan, Eva-Maria Schwienhorst-Stich, and Christa Kasang. “Risk of Disability among Adult Leprosy Cases and Determinants of Delay in Diagnosis in Five States of India: A Case-Control Study.” PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 13, no. 6 (June 27, 2019).