About Leprosy

Leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, is a curable infectious disease that mainly affects the skin, peripheral nerves, upper respiratory tract and the eyes. It can occur from early infancy to old age. Even today there are people who suffer from discrimination because they have or once had leprosy. By learning about leprosy and sharing with friends and family that it is a curable Illness, you can help create a world free from medical and social problems related to this age-old disease.

About Leprosy

Medical Aspects

Cause, Symptoms and Cure

Mycobacterium leprae.



  • Leprosy results from infection with Mycobacterium leprae. The M.leprae bacillus was discovered by a Norwegian doctor, G.A. Hansen in 1873.
  • It is transmitted through the air via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent contact with untreated individuals.
  • 95% of people have sufficient natural immunity and will not develop leprosy if exposed.
  • Not hereditary.
  • Not a curse nor a divine punishment.

A New Atlas of Leprosy

A pictorial manual to assist frontline health workers and volunteers in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of leprosy published by Sasakawa Health Foundation


  • The first outward sign of leprosy is the appearance of numb, discolored patches on the skin.
  • Enlarged nerves can also be a sign of the disease.
  • If leprosy progresses unchecked, it leads to loss of sensation in the limbs, paralyzed muscles, ulcers, injuries and secondary infections.

Multidrug therapy is provided
in calendar blister packs


  • Leprosy is treated with Multidrug Therapy (MDT); an orally administered regimen of three drugs— rifampicin, dapsone, and clofazimine— taken for 6 to 12 months.
  • MDT is provided free of charge throughout the world via WHO.
  • After the first dose of MDT, a patient is no longer infectious.

Diagnosis by a health coordinator
for the state health department’s leprosy program,
Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2015


  • There is no WHO-recommended vaccine for leprosy, but research is under way.
  • WHO guidelines recommend the use of single-dose rifampicin as a preventive treatment for adults and children (aged above 2 years) who are in regular contact with leprosy cases.
  • BCG vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of leprosy.

Elimination of Leprosy

  • WHO defines “elimination of leprosy as a public health problem” as a condition in which the prevalence rate is below one case per 10,000 population.
  • All countries have achieved elimination at the national level with the exception of Brazil and some small island states.
  • But in a number of countries, endemic hotspots of leprosy remain at the subnational level.

Social Aspects

Stigma and Discrimination

Although leprosy is now a curable disease, it has long been associated with stigma and discrimination.
In various parts of the world, persons affected by leprosy continue to face rejection, social exclusion and multiple forms of discrimination, based on religious beliefs, cultural practices and misconceptions about the disease.

Discrimination Takes Many Forms

  • Home

    Fear of leprosy has led persons to be segregated within their own homes, or has forced them to live elsewhere. For those who have left home, some have never been able to return because of the stigma.

  • Marriage

    Leprosy has been recognized as legitimate grounds for divorce in some countries. A person who contracts leprosy, especially a woman, will have difficulty finding a partner.

  • Education

    There have been cases of children with leprosy or those who have grown up in leprosy communities being prevented from enrolling in schools and denied an education.

  • Laws

    There are over 150 laws and regulations in various parts of the world that discriminate against persons affected by leprosy, restricting them from using public transportation, running as a candidate in elections, and getting married. See ILEP website to learn about the discriminatory laws in the world.

  • Family

    In some countries, persons affected by leprosy were not permitted to have children, or were forced to give up their babies at birth. The consequences of such policies still remain.

  • Identity

    In some countries, people who were segregated in leprosaria in the past had to assume a different name to protect their families, and were denied the right to their true identity.

  • Employment

    Unable to find work or dismissed for having contracted leprosy, some people have no choice but to beg for a living.

  • Travel

    Some countries categorize leprosy as a highly infectious disease and limit entry.
    Hotels have been known to refuse to accommodate persons affected by leprosy.

  • Medical Care

    There have been cases of medical personnel treating those with leprosy differently from other patients. Because they fear being discriminated against, some persons affected by leprosy avoid seeking treatment.

  • Welfare

    It is not always easy for persons affected by leprosy to apply for disability pensions or allowances.

  • Images and Terminology

    The use of insensitive imagery and derogatory terminology such as "leper" to describe a person with leprosy continues to reinforce the stigmatization of those with the disease. The use of leprosy a metaphor has a similar effect.

  • Self-stigma

    Stigmatized in many ways, persons affected by leprosy begin to think that they do not have or are not entitled to human rights.

and Human Rights

In order to raise public awareness of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination sought to have leprosy taken up as a human right issue.

As a result of efforts of all stakeholders, resolutions on elimination of discrimination against persons affected leprosy and their family members were adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017 and by the UN General Assembly in 2010.

The General Assembly also adopted accompanying principles and guidelines for achieving the goals.

Principles and Guidelines


“Persons affected by leprosy and their family members should be treated as people with dignity and are entitled to all the human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Principles and Guidelines:

If you want to know more about the resolutions: Please refer to the UN Human Rights Council.