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New Test May Signal the End for a Biblical Disease

Sisters from the Dondi leprosy village in Angola receive educational support from American Leprosy Missions.

It’s a disease associated with Biblical times—leprosy.  But even today, leprosy affects 3 to 4 million people around the world, many in Africa.  Some 250,000 people contract the disease each year.  Aid for Africa member American Leprosy Missions is the oldest and largest organization working to eradicate the disease and to support those who live with it.  Donald McNeil reports that eradication of leprosy just might be possible, thanks to a new test developed by scientists in Brazil.

Leprosy, known officially as Hansen’s disease, is a bacterium that kills nerves in fingers, toes, and other appendages and eventually leads to the loss of the extremities and to blindness.  Unfortunately, age-old superstitions about leprosy persist, and people who have the disease are often cast aside by society and pushed into a life of poverty and disability.

Once leprosy is diagnosed, it can be treated.  But discovery usually comes too late to prevent permanent damage, according to Bill Simmons, president of American Leprosy Missions.  The new test is quick—it takes less than ten minutes, is inexpensive, and can detect the disease before symptoms appear.  “We’re definitely excited about this,” Simmons told McNeil.

American Leprosy Missions supports local programs in several countries. It provides treatment for the disease and programs such as disability-prevention training, scholarships, nutritional support, micro-credit loans, job training, health education, stigma reduction, surgical training, and much more.  Learn more about its work on leprosy and Buruli Ulcer, which is caused by a bacterium related to leprosy.