On World Leprosy Day, The Duke of Gloucester has paid tribute to staff and volunteers at Lepra, an international charity aiming to combat Leprosy.
Lepra works to beat leprosy in India, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Zimbabwe by finding, diagnosing and treating people affected by the disease.
As Vice-President of the charity, the Duke issued a letter from Kensington Palace to mark the annual event.
The letter reads:
“Dear Lepra Staff and Volunteers,
“World Leprosy Day (WLD) falls annually on the last Sunday of January. To mark the occasion, I would like to send my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in Lepra for your efforts over the past difficult year,” reads the message.
“At this time last year, I was able to join you for an event at the House of Lords to help draw attention to the ancient disease of leprosy which is still very much with us.
“Although it is not possible to meet in person this year, I would like to express my support and hope that we can continuing raising awareness of leprosy, as we have all become more aware of infectious diseases.
“Leprosy remains one of the least understood and most widely neglected tropical diseases in the world. If left undiagnosed or untreated, it can cause life changing disabilities. Lepra’s raison d’etre is essential – we identify people with leprosy and assist them to access the support and treatment they need. Our role is pivotal as prejudicial views still exist towards those with leprosy.
This is a #WorldLeprosyDay like no other!
— Lepra (@LepraUK) January 31, 2021
“Over the last 10 months, government lockdowns and the risk of COVID transmission has driven leprosy patient numbers down at clinics across India and Bangladesh to below 50%. This means people affected by leprosy are remaining undiagnosed, continuing to transmit the infection and their disabilities are worsening.
“I’m very proud to say that Lepra has continued to provide services throughout this time, without postponing or reducing activities. This has involved a lot of self-sacrifice and risk for those working in the field. Thank you to all the Lepra staff who have played a part in this, and displayed a commendable attitude throughout.
Did you know His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester is Lepra’s vice president?
Lepra is proud of its royal patronage and are so thankful for the continued support of @RoyalFamily
— Lepra (@LepraUK) January 31, 2021
“Despite these challenges, Lepra has been able to increase activities in some areas, such as:
- Providing access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and disability support for those affected by leprosy • The purchase of a PCR machine at the Blue Peter Public Health and Research Centre in Hyderabad which allows for the study and testing for both leprosy and COVID-19, with COVID results in 40 minutes.
- Lepra has been helping make sure disability aids and the medicines for leprosy treatment and immunological reactions reach those who live even far away from clinics, thereby covering “the last mile” of the health systems.
- Lepra has also stepped in to provide emergency food supplies in remote, rural areas where the vulnerable are suffering. This is truly sobering.
“Looking ahead, I want to send you my very best wishes as you continue with this vital work. I’m heartened to hear that, over the year ahead, you will be continuing with the above work. Lepra is also now prepared to assist the governments with the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, should they need assistance again.’
“On World Leprosy Day, as we reflect on what Lepra has achieved over a challenging year, I wish to commend you, the staff and volunteers of Lepra, for carrying out your work with dedication and enthusiasm, and continuing to make a difference to the lives of those living with leprosy.’
He signed it off ‘with gratitude and congratulations on all that you have achieved in these difficult times’.
In 2020, Lepra reached 260,893 people through diagnosis, treatment and care. It reached a further 995,659 people through health education and events to raise awareness of leprosy.
The Queen became Patron of the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association (BELRA) in 1952, shortly after the death of her father, George VI, who had held the role since BELRA was founded in 1924.
In 1947, The Queen had taken an early interest in leprosy as when she became one of the first royal sponsors of BELRA’s Child Adoption Scheme.
At the time, she sponsored two girls at Itu Leprosy Colony in Nigeria. Following her wedding in November 1947, Princess Elizabeth sent a portion of her wedding cake to the Girl Guides at Itu.
When the two children were cured, Queen Elizabeth II supported the building of new children’s homes in places where the adoption scheme was being introduced in Tanzania. She continued to sponsor children in Africa and India until the end of the scheme.