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International award for NZ-based Pacific Leprosy Foundation

3 May 2012


International award for NZ-based Pacific Leprosy Foundation

The World Health Organisation has singled out the New Zealand-based Pacific Leprosy Foundation for its annual international US$100,000 Lee Jong-wook Memorial Prize for excellence in public health.

The Christchurch-based charitable foundation has been working within New Zealand and the South Pacific region for the past 80 years.

“We are absolutely thrilled that the World Health Organisation is recognising the work we do in this way. It's a huge honour,” said Mrs Jill Tomlinson, General Manager of the Foundation.

Every year, the WHO receives nominations from throughout the world for the substantial prize and Mrs Tomlinson said she believed the Foundation's work in Kiribati over the past two to three years, contributed to its success.

“We've been very involved in Kiribati which, along with two US territories, The Federated States Of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, has rates of leprosy above the WHO public safety level of less than 1 case per 10,000 population. We have been working closely with WHO re-establishing leprosy control programmes.

“We further increased our involvement this year and we also have a consultant who will spend three months of the year up there.”

About 100,000 people live in Kiribati and last year 140 new cases of leprosy werereported.

“Far from being a disease which has been eradicated, leprosy keeps occurring and its ramifications for the individual concerned, and their wider family, can be devastating," Mrs Tomlinson said.

“We work in two ways – firstly alongside each country’s health ministry, and secondly we run programmes for people disabled with leprosy tailoring the programmes to fit their needs. We may provide a living allowance, funds for housing, housing improvements and for the education of their children.”

The self-esteem of people leprosy sufferers can be rebuilt by encouraging them to provide for themselves and their families, she said.

“Funds are provided for income generating projects such as livestock improvement, growing crops, small farms and making products to be sold in the markets.”

Mrs Tomlinson said although the use of multi-drug therapy has had a dramatic impact in the control of leprosy, residual pockets of the disease remain and new cases continue to surface. In New Zealand about 30-35 people – all new immigrants -- develop signs of leprosy each year.

The Foundation relies entirely on donations and the WHO award would allow it toincrease its services in areas of high need.

“It will mean that we can extend our programme and do even more to eliminate and mitigate the effects of this disease.”

For more information pleasecontact:

Mrs Jill Tomlinson, on 03 343 3685 or 027 425 2745, jill.tomlinson@leprosy.org.nz

About the Pacific Leprosy Foundation

Based in Christchurch, the Pacific Leprosy Foundation is a not-for-profit, non-governmental non-religious organisation working towards the elimination and mitigation of the effects of leprosy in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and New Zealand. The Foundation does not receive any government funding and relies on public bequests and donations to continue its work.

The Foundation was formed by Patrick Twomey, a Christchurch man who taught in Fiji for a short while in the 1920s. Patrick was disturbed by the plight of people with leprosy as there was no cure for thedisease back then. When he returned to New Zealand he took up the cause of the leprosy patients on Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour. When this was closed in 1925 the patients were transferred to Makogai in Fiji where they joined a much larger group of around 750 leprosy sufferers from around the South Pacific. It was obvious that to achieve anything worthwhile for this group would require expanded appeal efforts in New Zealand.

Patrick dedicated himself to the cause and it wasn’t long before he became known as the ‘Leper Man’. He wrote appeal letters directly to prospective benefactors in Christchurch, then around Canterbury and finally, with the support of others, all across New Zealand. The time had come to establish a more formal organisation and the Makogai NZ Lepers’ Trust Board, the forerunner of the Pacific Leprosy Foundation, was set up in 1939. For further information visit www.leprosy.org.nz


About Leprosy

Leprosy is one of mankind's most ancient scourges, mentioned in writing from ancient India to the Bible to the Middle Ages.

Leprosy is caused by a bacteria (M. leprae ) that attacks and damages the nerves under the skin which can result in paralysis, the loss of sensations, degeneration of muscles and bone, leading to highly visible progressive debilities.

Leprosy is contagious. It is spread by droplet infection (coughs and sneezes) but, unlike a cold, is difficult to catch

The long incubation period of leprosy (a few months up to 20 or even 50 years), together with the varied symptoms associated with different forms of the disease, have historically made diagnosis exceedingly difficult.

There has been an effective cure for leprosy since the introduction of Multiple Drug Therapy (MDT) in the 1980s. MDT is provided free everywhere in the world by the Novartis Foundation.

As a consequence of nerve damage in the limbs, unfelt injuries especially to the hands and feet lead to severe physical disabilities aggravated by accidental injuries and repetitive actions in everyday life.

M. leprae attack the nerves in cooler areas of the body which are, in the main, the peripheral nerves close to the surface of the skin. This gives rise to visible patches and rashes on the skin, flattening of facial features, visual problems and loss of facial hair.

Fingers and toes are most easily damaged and the loss of these digits is a notorious sign of leprosy. The simple repetitious action of walking with anaesthetized nerves in the feet lead to the later chronic problem of plantar ulcers on the soles. These are extremely difficult to cure and frequently lead to complications that result in amputations.

Disabilities can occur long after the disease has been arrested either naturally or by medical treatment, because the nerves cannot recover. For this reason early diagnosis of leprosy and treatment are imperative to prevent nerve damage which may lead to later severe physical disabilities.

ENDS

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