Every two minutes a new case of leprosy is diagnosed in some part of the world. Contrary to common belief, Hansen’s Disease – the bacterial infection generally called leprosy – is present in 140 countries and continues to infect people, especially in some areas such as Asia and Africa, where half the world’s cases are recorded. This is why the World Health Organization launched a new global strategy in 2016 to fight leprosy. There are currently three million people affected by the disease with mutilations and physical disabilities.
For many years Ordre de Malte France has been in the forefront in combating leprosy, offering treatment and assistance to sufferers. The first hospital facility for treating leprosy patients was inaugurated in Paris in 1928 and since then there have been significant developments in prevention and treatment, with the CIOMAL foundation (Order of Malta’s international campaign against leprosy) being created in 1958. Early diagnosis remains the most effective instrument for preventing the propagation of the disease, treatable with polychemotherapy – the combination of three drugs for a cycle that can last for 24 months.
If the disease is not recognized during its initial stages, it can lead to a rapid degeneration causing cutaneous and nerve lesions, mostly on the face, eyes, hands and feet. Deformed and mutilated, leprosy patients are then excluded from the society in which they live and destined for a life of hardship. A vicious circle that the Ordre de Malte France’s doctors and healthcare workers attempt to break with awareness and prevention campaigns in some of the countries most at risk, such as Benin, Cameron, Guinea Conakry, Madagascar, Mozambique and Senegal in Africa, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in Asia.
Through projects shared with the local health authorities, Ordre de Malte France is involved in delicate surgical procedures and rehabilitation courses. The association is also engaged in training local doctors and nurses.
The Order of Malta’s commitment also includes research. For ten years the Order has been running MALTALEP, a scientific project that studies the genetic mechanisms causing leprosy and develops new therapies. Recognised by the World Health Organization, MALTALEP is now the main source of financing for research into eradicating leprosy. From 26 to 28 January, Ordre de Malte France’s volunteers will be going into the streets and squares of French towns on the 65th World Leprosy Day, celebrated on the last Sunday of January. The aim is to raise funds for new awareness campaigns and for continuing scientific research. A commitment that in 2017 succeeded in raising 650 thousand euro.