A Christian missions agency is fighting the modern-day leprosy outbreak that resembles what took place in biblical times, as it responds to victims of the "forgotten plague" – not with the typical repugnance and ostracism, but with love and compassion.
With 200,000 new cases globally every year, mostly in Asia – and from 150-250 in the United States (mostly in the South) – leprosy is no longer a thing of the past as many believe, says Gospel for Asia (GFA) founder Dr. K.P. Yohanan.
"Since Bible times, people with leprosy have been treated as outcasts," Yohannan notes in a press release issued Tuesday. "In many places in the world the stigma is devastating, and people are rejected by their families – who believe they're cursed."
Leprosy is caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. Even though the disease often has devastating complications – such as skin lesions, paralysis, blindness and nerve damage – antibiotics can cure it in its early stages. Many of its victims, however, don't get treated early out of fear of being ostracized, and later they are shunned when physical disfigurements appear.
Yohannan, whose ministry is headquartered in Texas, has served the marginalized in Asia for more than 40 years. He says he models his ministry after that of Christ.
"We take our example from Jesus – the lover of lepers – who touched those no one else would touch, and loved those despised and rejected by others," the Christian leader shares.
The advances made in the fight against leprosy over the last four decades are of no help to those who are not treated when the disease first sets in, he laments.
"This is the great tragedy – that leprosy can be cured in the early stages by simple medicines, and yet so often the opportunity to be cured is lost," Yohannan explains. "The delay in seeking treatment and the resulting stigma can spawn a life of misery and isolation."
For those who have to deal with the manifestations of the disease, Yohanan's ministry has provided sustained relief for some time.
"For decades, GFA-supported workers in Asia – one of the world's most leprosy-endemic regions – have provided physical and emotional support for victims of the disease, including ministering at a leprosy hospital," GFA reports. "At a leprosy colony in Asia, children from a GFA-supported Bridge of Hope center recently visited leprosy victims who've been abandoned by their own families and friends."
To coincide with the annual awareness observance, World Leprosy Day on January 26, GFA released its new report: Progress in the Fight Against Leprosy.