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Historically, leprosy was an incurable and disfiguring disease. It is traditionally believed that Lepers were shunned and sequestered in leper colonies. However, this is an oversimplistic explanation not at all backed up by historical evidence. A very great number of Leprosaria or leper hospitals sprang up in the middle ages, particularly in England, and there were 250 in England by the 1230's, the first recorded one being at Harbledown. These institutions were run along monastic lines, and whilst lepers were encouraged to live in these monastic type establishments, this was more for the health of their own souls than for any segregation policy. Indeed, in the Christian tradition, those who suffered from Leprosy were considered to be going through Purgatory on Earth, and for this reason their suffering was so much more Holy than the ordinary person. Saint Radegund was noted for washing the feet of Lepers, and Orderic Vitalis writes of a monk, Ralf, who was so overcome by the plight of the leper that he prayed to catch Leprosy himself (he eventually did catch it). The Leper would carry a clapper and bell to warn of his approach, and this was as much to attract attention for charity as to warn people that a diseased person was near. Most importantly, Jesus had walked with the Leper, and so in medieval religious society, it was a noble thing to be able to converse and build relationships with the Leper.
Today, leprosy is easily curable by multidrug antibiotic therapy (MDT). The main challenges in the eradication of Hansen's disease are in reaching populations that have not yet received multidrug therapy services, improving detection of the disease, providing patients with high-quality services and affordable drugs, and fighting social taboos about the disease where patients are considered to be "unclean", or "cursed by God" and outcasts. The last issue is important to address, because in such societies, patients may be forced to hide their condition (and thus not to seek treatment) in order not to be discriminated against, since the lack of awareness about Hansen's disease leads people to falsely believe that the disease is highly contagious and incurable. Since 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided all endemic countries with free MDT, supplied through Ministries of Health. In December 2005, an agreement was signed between the WHO and the pharmaceutical company Novartis to extend this free provision until at least the end of 2010.
There are no treatments.
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