Order of Malta among the organizers
In preparation for the Jubilee of Sick and Disabled Persons to be celebrated on 12 June, an International conference entitled “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s disease, Respectful of their Dignity” is being held in Rome on June 8th and 9th. Organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, the Nippon Foundation, the Raoul Follereau Foundation and the Sovereign Order of Malta, the meeting is attended by over 250 people, including scientists, healthcare workers and cured individuals from some 45 countries on the five continents.
One of the main aims of the conference, to be held in the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome, is to address the problem of the social stigma and discrimination too often associated with Hansen’s Disease. This is an illness that still today, albeit much less than in the past, continues to affect an average of 200,000 people ever year, destroying their lives and condemning them to discrimination and marginalization. A stigma that is as old as the disease itself, widespread in many South-East Asian countries, in South America and in various African nations.
The organizers have reiterated that any effort to combat leprosy must not be limited to the medical dimension but must also cover social aspects.
“Very often authorities hide the existence of new cases of Hansen’s Disease in their countries because they fear this could be a proof of poverty. We must get rid of this perception. Denying the existence of the disease only increases the risk of losing financing and support for diagnosis and treatment,” explained the Order of Malta’s Grand Hospitaller Dominique de La Rochefoucauld-Montbel.
Besides illustrating what is being done to prevent and treat Hansen’s Disease, the conference will attempt to reach solid and tangible results. Three projects will be set in motion by this meeting. In Mali to improve early diagnosis techniques, in Brazil for the integration and inclusion of those suffering from leprosy, and in South East Asia where the Order of Malta has for decades been engaged in programmes for diagnosing and treating leprosy, also through its CIOMAL Foundation (Order of Malta’s International Committee Against Leprosy). A commitment that also involves research, where the Order’s MALTALEP programme has for the last ten years been studying the genetic mechanisms that cause leprosy and setting up new therapies.