What is Leprosy?

Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is a chronic infectious disease caused by mycobacterium leprae, an acid-fast, bacillus. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, wet skin inside the nostrils and also the eyes. Sensory loss is a typical feature of the disease and this leads to a host of afflictions if left untreated.

Leprosy has afflicted humanity since time immemorial – leaving behind an image of mutilation, rejection and exclusion from society. Dreaded since no cure was then known, the disease was also thought to be highly infectious/ contagious.  In Sri Lanka, the afflicted often spent several years in isolation in leprosy asylums, ostracised by friends and family.  Many were released from internment when medically declared as being non-infectious. Unlike other diseases, leprosy, unfortunately, left severe scars and disabilities which were irreversible.

Spreading awareness and dispelling myths

Today, however, we have definite methods of diagnosis, treatment and cure which are obtainable free of cost from all government hospitals in Sri Lanka. Leprosy is now known to be only infectious (like the common flu) and only risks being contagious in cases of open cuts or wounds on individuals living in afflicted person environments and long-term exposure to afflicted persons.

Diagnosis of leprosy is most commonly based on clinical signs and symptoms. These are easy to observe and elicit by any health worker after a short period of training. In practice, most often persons with such complaints report on their own to the health centre. Only in rare instances is there a need to use laboratory and other investigations to confirm a diagnosis of leprosy.

The fact that the disease is curable when detected in its early stages gives rise to much hope and relief of mind to the disabled leprosy-affected persons and their families and their family members and society at large. These truths and myths need to be made aware to all and will go a long way to help change attitudes and quell the fears of people towards leprosy. Effective awareness programs and sustained care of patients can only be implemented by receiving donor aid, support from benefactors and adequate funds to finance and support the planned activities of SUROL.

SUROL is a non-profit organization that has been in operation since 1971. We reach out to the most marginalized group of people in society.


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