200,000 new cases of leprosy each year, Belgian NGO reports

At least 200,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy every year, according to Belgian NGO Damiaanactie. It published the figures ahead of World Leprosy Day on Sunday. 

In the past 60 years, the number of people with disabilities caused by the disease has fallen from 12 million to 3 million. “We really want to stop the spread of leprosy completely,” Damiaanactie says. “Ninety-nine per cent of leprosy patients who receive timely diagnosis and treatment are cured.”

Damiaanactie is a Brussels-based NGO that supports people with leprosy, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases such as leishmaniasis. In 2023, it launched a clinical study on preventive treatment in Comoros. The results of a previous study, which started in 2019, will be published soon and “look promising”, it says.

Saint Damien

The organisation was set up in the name of Father Damien, a priest from Flemish Brabant who dedicated his life to serving people with leprosy in Hawaii in the late 1800s. He contracted leprosy himself and died of the disease in 1889. He was canonised in 2009.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that affects the skin and peripheral nervous system and is still prevalent in more than 120 countries. It is transmitted through microdroplets expelled when people exhale, cough or sneeze. 

Patients do not usually die from the disease, but they can lose their sight or suffer skin lesions or disfigurement, which can lead to social exclusion. Almost 6 per cent of current patients are children under 15.

Under its Sustainable Development Goals for health and well-being, the United Nations says it will eradicate tropical diseases like leprosy. The aim is to reduce the number of new cases per year to 62,500 by 2030. 


A doctor draws blood from a child during a screening campaign against leprosy in the village of Djougbosso, Côte d'Ivoire, January 2023 © PHOTO ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP

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