Yesterday was World Leprosy Day. As a volunteer with Nepal Leprosy Trust (NLT) Ireland, I’ve noticed how it’s barely on the radar for many people, often regarded as a relic from the Bible, more metaphor than modern reality. But in 2013 there were nearly 200,000 cases globally – and that’s just the reported ones.
It’s a disease of paradoxes. The sickness itself stops physical pain by attacking nerves but causes emotional pain through stigma and rejection. It’s relatively straightforward to cure but the scars – bodily and social – can last a lifetime. While it’s been eliminated as a global health problem (fewer than 1 in 10,000 cases worldwide) it’s still endemic in parts of Asia and Africa. And while it’s the poor who are overwhelmingly affected, the associated stigma is familiar to anyone who’s faced rejection – which is pretty much anyone.
No wonder leprosy is top of the disease pops in the Bible. Whatever you think of Jesus, you’ve got to admit he had a way with the wobblers, those teetering at the edge of society: beggars and prostitutes, hobos and lepers.
Here’s where he’d be hanging out today: