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59th World Leprosy Day

Order of Malta on the ground in the most affected countries

Leprosy affects more than 210,000 individuals every year, of which 20,000 are children. The Order of Malta cares for leprosy patients on four continents, and has cared for sufferers of this disease throughout its nine hundred year history. Today, its assistance programmes operate in  Asia (India, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam), Africa (Niger, Guinea, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Senegal, Mauritania, Gabon, Benin, South Sudan, Kenya), the Middle East (Egypt) and South America (Brazil).

In Europe, local fundraising action in France marks the day

Over the weekend, more than 10,000 fundraisers from Ordre de Malte France gathered in cities and towns all over the country – 106 administrative divisions – to support the fight against leprosy. The funds they raised ensure continuing support from Ordre de Malte France to treat the disease through  screening, home and clinical care and rehabilitation, as well as training physicians and health personnel, and financing research. The Order of Malta in France, through its MALTALEP programme, finances primary and clinical research into leprosy in the developing world.

What is leprosy?

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that evolves very slowly (incubation can be up to twenty years). It primarily affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucous membranes of the upper airways and the eyes. To date, there is no vaccine, but an inexpensive, effective Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) treatment has meant cure for more than 14 million patients since 1982 (source: WHO).

Progress towards the goal of eradication

Thanks to donations and the involvement of both professionals and volunteers, there has been significant progress over recent years:

– In fifteen years, leprosy has been eradicated in 98 countries, but it is still present in roughly one hundred countries;

– Since 2002, the disease has sharply declined, but 65% of new cases appear in the most contagious form;

– In 2011, 2.5 million lepers were cured, but they suffer from severe crippling as a result of the disease.

Reintegrating patients thanks to plastic surgery and rehabilitation

Because of the visible results of leprosy (hands without fingers, leg amputations, blindness) many thousands of sufferers are excluded from society. The Order of Malta, through a number of its organisations around the world, is implementing early detection, health care, plastic surgery and rehabilitation programmes in many countries to assist patients to reintegrate professionally and socially.

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The mission of the Order of Malta is inspired by its tradition of ‘Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum', to assist the poor and the sick, and bear witness to the Christian faith.


The Sovereign Order of Malta is a sovereign subject of international law. The Order - which is based in Rome, in via Condotti - has its own Government, an independent magistracy, and bilateral diplomatic relations with 110 countries.


The Order of St John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilisation. Present in Palestine in around 1048, it is a lay religious Order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature.