Comment: “With any long-term disease comes a sort of mental burden.”




Chief Executive of The Leprosy Mission, Peter Waddup, is urging people to challenge others who react negatively to anyone struggling with disease. Peter’s eyes have been opened to the suffering this causes, having listened to the heart-wrenching stories of people affected by leprosy.

Despite being entirely curable, leprosy continues to loom large in the public imagination today. Those affected often suffer greater scars emotionally than from the physical disease itself.

Peter says that there is no place for disease-related stigma today, whether it be HIV, addiction, or leprosy.

“With any long-term disease comes some sort of mental burden,” said Peter.

“Whether it be the strain of managing a condition or frustration over the restriction it puts on someone’s life.

“There are some diseases, however, where it seems more fair game to make a derogatory comment.

“We are all guilty of it and often someone may not have even realised they are even showing prejudice. So, it is a good challenge to set and definitely one for me to live out in practice! It’s hard to think of an emotion more painful than shame and I would hate to play a part in causing such hurt.”

Peter said overcoming stigma surrounding leprosy is the biggest hurdle to ending the disease once and for all.

“Leprosy is a cruel physical disease which attacks the body. And yet it’s the mental torment surrounding it which is often the hardest to bear,” he said.

“I have sat with people who have been subjected to unimaginable cruelty. They have been beaten, set fire to and cast out of their families and communities. All because they have leprosy, a curable disease that shouldn’t even exist today. Now, living on the streets, they are the untouchables, the unwanted.

“Perhaps the cruellest twist is people hiding the early signs of leprosy because they fear rejection. Tragically this temporary fix only serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. They then develop disabilities because they did not take the antibiotic cure soon enough. Now, bearing the physical signs of leprosy, they go on to live out the heartache of isolation they feared. It’s small wonder that the disease goes hand in hand with anxiety and depression.”

Leprosy Mission teams work tirelessly to find and cure leprosy in some of the world’s poorest communities. Yet a good part of the charity’s work is awareness raising.

Peter said: “It’s so important that we begin to expose leprosy for what it really is. A tiny bacterium that simply needs to be caught and treated early. We are continually battling the narrative that leprosy is a curse.

“While where we work across Asia and Africa this means educating communities, there is also still work to do in the UK.

“The image of a person with leprosy shaking a bell to warn they are ‘unclean’ is firmly embedded in our psyche. The derogatory term ‘leper’ is used freely today in the UK, often completely innocently. But when you have witnessed the damage that label causes to a person’s life, it prompts me to renew my call to stop all prejudice surrounding any disease. Words are powerful. Labels like ‘leper’, only serve to damage people’s lives when they are at the most vulnerable.

“I am so encouraged that, through the generosity of people in the UK, we can take each leprosy patient on a journey to restore their dignity. The mental scars might always be there. But through the compassion of my incredible colleagues overseas, together, we help to bring healing and rebuild lives.”

Main Photo Credit: Jeffrey Chukwu

Sorted Staff Writer


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