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American Leprosy Missions

By: David Lyda (From: Volume 1 - Issue 4)

Most people would be surprised to find out that leprosy is still a very real and terrible disease in the modern world. Countries in Asia, Africa, and South America are some of the hardest hit by the condition, and someone is diagnosed every two minutes in the world each day. Even the United States sees some 150 new cases of leprosy each year. This skin and nerve disease is caused by a bacteriaum called Myscobacterium leprae, and it can be spread by prolonged contact with an infected person. Primarily, this may be spread through coughing or sneezing, but approximately 95% of people across the world have a built in immunity to leprosy.

This is Mangal from India. When Mangal found out she had leprosy, her family and friends rejected her. Her hands became deformed, but through the work of our partners at Vadala Mission, she was restored to her community and learned how to care for her hands, feet, and eyes. She also was trained in sewing. Now, this woman who was shunned, runs a thriving tailoring business and school. Mangal is pictured above teaching some young women to sew. This is a perfect example of how American Leprosy Missions transforms lives! (Photo by Tom Bradley)
The leprosy of the Bible actually referred to several different types of skin diseases, and many were incurable outside of Divine intervention. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a curable disease today. Treatments began as early as the 1900s, but a true cure did not come until the 1980s. Today, a combination of three separate antibiotics is used to get rid of leprosy in usually six months to a year. The treatments cost around $348 on average and include medication, surgeries, and education through the American Leprosy Missions. In 1906, Christian missionary Thomas Bailey called together a group of seven prominent ministers, mission executives, and businessmen in New York City to found what is now the oldest and largest Christian leprosy organization in the United States. The American Leprosy Missions, based in Greenville, SC, continues to bring medical care, Christian outreach, and much more to 14 countries. This non-denominational organization also focuses on bringing those affected by leprosy back into their communities and rebuilding their lives.

Just like in Biblical times, people affected by leprosy are often outcasts in their communities. There is fear related to the potential spread of the disease, fear related to the often gruesome appearance of those affected, and fear that their condition may be caused by evil spirits or witchcraft. The Jewish people were given detailed instructions (Leviticus 13 & 14) on how to deal with those affected by leprosy. To avoid the spread of the disease, people with leprosy were put outside of the camp and isolated. The stigma related to leprosy still finds many people in modern day being unnecessarily ostracized.

Leprosy has devastating effects on the body beyond just the appearance on the skin. Discolored spots on the arms, legs, or back are often some of the first signs of the disease. Nerve endings are attacked and cause numbness to many parts of the body and can even cause paralysis of small muscles. Fingers can become curled from the paralysis and many appendages also can become shortened and deformed from cartilage being absorbed into the body. The loss of feeling in the hands and feet can result in injuries that sometimes develop into major infections. These infections can cause tissue loss.

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