World Leprosy Day – Remembering Two Hidden Carers in Uganda

Each year on the last Sunday of January World Leprosy Day is observed to make people understand that Leprosy is a sickness that still exists in 2023. According to the World Health Organization “almost 127,558 new cases of leprosy were reported around the world in 2020.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) urges caution especially regions where it is “endemic” and they list: Angola, Brazil, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Federated States of Micronesia.  

NGOs, philanthropists and representatives of pharmaceutical companies met in Kigali, Ruanda, in 1916, to discuss sustainable development in the African region. From the meeting came the Kigali Declaration on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) on June 23rd. It is a global initiative that has the support of the Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical companies and the governments of Canada, Germany, the U.K. and the United States.  

One group, American Leprosy Missions, was represented at the meeting and is convinced that the Kigali commitments will help to finally end diseases like leprosy. One of the Mission’s goals is leprosy research which includes the testing of the first leprosy-specific vaccine, LepVax.

The New York Times published an article on January 25, 2022 informing readers that Leprosy is still very much alive. Jeffrey Gettleman, South Asia Bureau chief for the Times wrote of a free hospital in Hyderabad, India, that has been treating leprosy for sixty years. “Leprosy is not the end. A Hyderabad hospital shows why.”

In Uganda under colonial times the care of people suffering from leprosy was undertaken by the government. There are many who have worked silently in this care. Here we write about two of them. They were part of the mission of the Catholic Church in Uganda. They cared for people suffering from Hansen’s disease, leprosy, in two settlements in Eastern Uganda.

One of them is a Mill Hill Missionary priest who was well known in the 1930s and 1940s. He was chaplain to a leprosy settlement at Nyenga in Eastern Uganda. His name was Bernard “Barney” MacLoone. The other is someone who is known as the “Mother of Lepers”, a medical doctor connected with the hospital at Buluba, also in Eastern Uganda, Wanda Błeńska.

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