National Tuberculosis (TB) and Leprosy Elimination Programme (NTLEP) has called upon religious leaders in Malawi to take a leading role in demystifying myths and false teachings surrounding leprosy disease.
NTLEP Leprosy Coordinator Mercy Mziya made the call in Salima on Monday during a two-day biannual media training NTLEP organized with funding from the World Bank.
The programme hosted interfaith and media training to enhance awareness of leprosy and dispel the discrimination that people affected by the disease face.
Mziya observed that leprosy is the only disease that has a biblical history where lepers were regarded as cursed by God.
She feared such teachings could promote stigma and discrimination; hence, the need for faith leaders to clear such misconceptions.
Reverend Father Joseph Billiat of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledged that the church has a crucial role to play in the restoration of the human rights of persons affected by leprosy, emphasizing that the church does not condone stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.
Billiat observed that people with leprosy suffer not only from physical disease, but also from harmful social stigmas, which can lead to mental illness.
“The church is a key instrument in complementing government’s efforts to end leprosy and TB by 2030 as it has a direct link to the people. As such, we wish to commit ourselves to use the pulpits to demystify myths surrounding the disease,” he said.
In his presentation, NTLEP TB/HIV Programmes Officer Henry Kanyerere said the programme is expanding and extending leprosy services to every corner of the country to ensure they are easily accessible to those who may need them.
Kanyerere observed that centralized care for leprosy patients is one of the challenges hindering access to care and treatment for patients, especially those living in hard-to-reach areas.
Meanwhile, NTLEP has reported that the number of new leprosy cases doubled from 235 in 2021 to 612 in 2022.