This is the VOA Special English Health Report.
Benedict named five new saints on Sunday, including a Catholic clergyman who
cared for people in a leper colony.
Damien was born Joseph De Veuster in Belgium. In eighteen seventy-three he went
to the Hawaiian island of Molokai. After several years of working in the
colony, he himself developed leprosy. Father Damien died in eighteen
eighty-nine. He was forty-nine years old.
Leprosy -- also called Hansen's disease
-- is a bacterial disease that causes skin wounds and nerve damage. The disease
can severely disfigure victims and cause death. Untreated patients can spread
the bacteria from their nose and mouth through the air to people who are near
them a lot.
But doctors have been able to treat leprosy since the
nineteen forties. Today they use a combination of three drugs. Experts say
after the first treatment, patients can no longer infect others.
the start of this year there were two hundred thirteen thousand cases of
leprosy reported in one hundred twenty-one countries. The World Health
Organization says there were almost two hundred fifty thousand new cases last
year. But the drug combination can cure the disease within six to twelve
number of new cases has been falling in many countries. But there are places
where leprosy is still spreading quickly. These include areas of Angola,
Brazil, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and India. Other
areas are in Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania.
Leprosy is an ancient disease. It victims
have been highly stigmatized -- often blamed for their condition and made to
feel unclean. In India, leprosy has traditionally been considered a punishment
for something bad done in a former life. Other cultures have considered it a sign
James Staples teaches
in the School of Social Sciences at Brunel University in Britain. He is author
of the book "Peculiar People, Amazing Lives: Leprosy,
Social Exclusion and Community Making in South India."
tells us that modern knowledge about leprosy does not necessarily reduce the
stigma. Public health campaigns spread the message that leprosy is curable and not
highly infectious. Yet he says this message is often more scary for people than
the idea that leprosy is some sort of spiritual punishment. That explanation
may not do much for the patient's place in society, he says, "but at least
other people don't think they are going to catch it."
And that's the VOA Special English
Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.