September 19, 2017

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Leprosy Is Not Quite Yet A Disease Of The Past

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This 26-year-old man in the town of Min Hla in Myanmar has leprosy. Health-care workers touch his skin with a napkin to see if he feels it — a way to determine nerve damage. Kiara Barnes/Courtesy of Novartis Foundation hide caption

toggle caption Kiara Barnes/Courtesy of Novartis Foundation

Leprosy is an ancient disease, a Biblical curse and even in the 21st century a cultural shame so severe that in some countries patients are sent to live in isolated colonies or tossed out of their own homes.

“I met a woman whose husband and children forced her to live in the cow shed,” says Gareth Shrubshole, programs and advocacy officer at the Leprosy Mission. “Her boys refused to share a meal with their own mother.” That was in India.

That may be a bit surprising — leprosy seems to be a disease of the past. Indeed, in 2006, the World Health Organization issued a report on “elimination of leprosy as a public health problem,” stating that the number of cases had dropped by 90 percent since 1985.

But more than a decade later, leprosy persists. According to a report in The

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