Leprosy is one of the classic scourges of ancient times. But it’s far from being consigned to history – with over 200,000 new cases reported each year.
Although it’s easily treated with antibiotics, people living in remote communities often go undiagnosed and are left with permanent damage. Now a new, cheap test – “the cost of one ice-cream” – could help doctors to stop the disease in its tracks.
Celio Marques was 16 years old when he first noticed pain and weakness in his hands and feet.
He was showing the early signs of leprosy but was treated for rheumatism for three years, allowing the disease to spread.
When the correct diagnosis finally came at the age of 20, Marques thought his life was over.
“Back then, the doctor told me – you have a disease that kills, that makes your limbs fall off. You have to go away. I was desperate and tried to kill myself. But then I learned what the disease really is and how to treat it.”
Thirty years have passed and Mr Marques, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, is fully cured of the disease. But he’s had to learn to live with the damage caused by the late diagnosis.
His fingers are permanently bent inwards and he has reduced movement in his hands and feet. He lost his eyebrows and his ears are swollen. Early diagnosis would have brought a very different outcome.
A modern day problem
After India, Brazil has the second highest number of leprosy infections in the world, accounting for 90% of cases in Latin America
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