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About Leprosy

Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease that attacks nerves in the hands, feet and face, making them weak and numb.

About Leprosy

Often considered a disease of the past, leprosy in fact continues to affect millions of people around the world, with hundreds of thousands of new diagnoses every year, and many known to continue undiagnosed.

Most New Zealanders are not aware that leprosy exists today. In fact, every two minutes someone is diagnosed with leprosy.

Leprosy is curable, not highly contagious, and most people have a natural immunity to it, but a lack of knowledge and understanding about the disease is one of the key challenges as we seek to defeat it entirely. 

What is leprosy?

Leprosy (or Hansen’s Disease) is a disease caused by the bacillus mycobacterium leprae.

What are the symptoms of leprosy?

Leprosy starts by damaging nerves close to the surface of the skin. The first signs are often discoloured patches on the body that have lost sensation.

Because mycobacterium leprae multiplies slowly, symptoms of the disease can take a long time to develop - around five years on average but sometimes as long as 20 years.

Does leprosy still exist?

Yes. Leprosy is not an affliction of the past. It is a 21st-century disease, devastating people’s lives right now. 2000 years after Jesus ministered to people affected by leprosy, the disease continues to affect men, women, and children. We will not stop until leprosy is defeated.

Is there a cure for leprosy?

A cure for leprosy has been available since 1982. Multidrug therapy (MDT) is a combination of three drugs taken daily for six or 12 months, depending on the severity of the disease. But while treatment stops leprosy from progressing, it can’t reverse disability. This is why the specialist services we provide are vital.

A clawed hand dropped a foot or damaged eyelids can be restored with surgery. Custom-made protective footwear can reduce the chances of injury and stop ulcers from developing. However, some disabilities caused by leprosy are too severe for surgery to have much effect.

Leprosy facts

  • Today, millions of people are affected by leprosy, including those yet to be diagnosed and people cured but permanently disabled
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy diagnosed globally each year - 202,185 in 2019. This number fell dramatically in 2020, to 127,396, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to less new case detection and fewer countries reporting on new cases
  • 51 percent of new cases of leprosy diagnosed in 2020 were found in India

  • Where is leprosy found today?

    Where is leprosy found today?

    Every 2 minutes a person somewhere in the world is diagnosed with leprosy.
  • Causes


    Leprosy (also known as Hansen's disease) is caused by bacteria which attack nerves in the extremities of the body like your hands, feet and face leaving them numb.
  • Consequences


    In almost every country where we work, stigma towards leprosy-affected individuals and their families still exists.
  • Frequently asked questions

    Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  • Further Information

    Further Information

    There are many organisations around the world that work towards the goal of eradicating the causes and consequences of leprosy.