In Vietnam the Order of Malta has been engaged in fighting the disease for 40 years
Ahead of the 62nd World Leprosy Day on 25 January next, the Ordre de Malte France’s volunteers are once again preparing to take to the streets of the country’s main towns to raise funds for the research and treatment of Hansen’s Disease. The spread of leprosy has been drastically reduced over the last decade and the World Health Organization recorded 215,656 new cases in 2013, of which 10 per cent involve children. But one of the most difficult obstacles is the reintegration into the community of people affected by the disease, often facing discrimination and exclusion even once they are completely cured. This is one of the challenges of the Ordre de Malte France’s programme, with its 20 specific medical centres for treating and preventing leprosy in 14 countries where the disease continues to exist – Benin, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea-Conakry, India, Laos, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Senegal and Vietnam.
In Vietnam, the Order of Malta’s French association has been present nationwide for over forty years. It runs specialized centres in eight Vietnamese towns, where some 300 new cases of leprosy are diagnosed every year. In 1991 Ordre de Malte France concluded an agreement for creating a Functional Rehabilitation Department inside the Dermatology and Venereology Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. The facility has four rooms with five beds each. It also has two operating theatres, various rooms for medical check-ups, ophthalmological examinations and physiotherapy and even a shoe repair workshop, often requested by patients. Every year this hospital department treats some 600 leprosy sufferers to prevent the most serious consequence – the amputation of limbs. The services also include plastic surgery and rehabilitation to ease the gradual reintegration of patients in the social fabric.
Since 2006, Ordre de Malte France has also been running a scientific research programme (MALTALEP) that studies the genetic mechanisms underlying leprosy and sets up new therapies. Recognised by the World Health Organization, MALTALEP is now the main financing source for research into eradicating leprosy, for which still no vaccine exists.