Every two minutes someone is diagnosed with leprosy, points out the body promoting World Leprosy Day 2013, which will be marked on Sunday 27 January.
While this fact will prove shocking to most in the West, it will not surprise the people of South Sudan. Unofficial data points to the UN’s newest member state as having the world’s highest prevalence of leprosy.
Six times the number of people the World Health Organisation classes as a public health problem are believed to be affected by leprosy in South Sudan.
After decades of civil war, South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. But less than two years after its independence celebrations, the people of Sudan face a daily struggle for survival with severe food shortages.
Leprosy is a disease intrinsically linked with poverty and The Leprosy Mission England and Wales believes one of its greatest challenges lies in providing desperately-needed services to those affected by leprosy in South Sudan.
Recent field trips to the country made by staff at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales revealed a woeful lack of healthcare available to those affected by this most devastating disease. While leprosy is easily cured with a simple course of antibiotics, if left untreated it causes irreversible disabilities including blindness.
Head of Programmes Coordination at The Leprosy Mission, Sian Arulanantham, met members of a leprosy community based on the outskirts of South Sudan’s capital city Juba.
Due to demands for land in the new nation’s capital, its people had been displaced with its already poor members left destitute and living in tents.
Ms Arulanantham said: “When a nation is blighted by poverty, leprosy-affected people, tellingly, usually remain among its poorest and most-marginalised groups of people. This has never been so apparent to me as when I met this group of people living in tents with virtually no access to healthcare or education.
“We are working with the government to set up a programme in South Sudan to diagnose and treat leprosy before it leaves a person disabled or robs them of their eyesight. We also want to improve this displaced community’s living conditions and send the children to school.
“Tragically, I understand that there are numerous communities like this in South Sudan that The Leprosy Mission is doing its utmost to reach out to,” he said.
A health worker in Juba who is affected by leprosy himself, welcomed The Leprosy Mission’s intervention.
“The new government has not yet been able to address our needs,” he said. “The people here say their priority is food and education. They are building a primary school nearby but we cannot afford the fees. Our children are still roaming around aimlessly with hungry stomachs and without an education they have no hope. We need help.”
* For more information visit: www.worldleprosyday.org.uk