The day was initiated in 1954 by French philanthropist and writer, Raoul Follereau, as a way to raise global awareness of this deadly ancient disease and call attention to the fact that it can be prevented, treated and cured. Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. It is also known as Hansen’s disease, named after Norwegian physician, Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen. For thousands of years, people with leprosy have been stigmatized and considered to be at the extreme margins of the society. The aim of World Leprosy Day is to change this attitude and increase public awareness of the fact that leprosy can now be easily prevented and cured.
The date for World Leprosy Day was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Indian freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. During his lifetime, Mahatma Gandhi worked tirelessly towards the betterment of people afflicted with leprosy.