Hundreds of people are still being diagnosed with leprosy each day globally, with one in 12 of these being children. However, due to fear and lack of knowledge, there are over three million people living with undiagnosed leprosy, a Maltese NGO says.

Through supporting two particular charities in India and Uganda in awareness-raising, prevention, and treatments, the Grand Commandery of the Castello (VO/1558), a jurisdiction of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, supports leprosy-afflicted people so that they can as much as possible lead normal lives.

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by a bacillus called Mycobacterium leprae (a relative of TB). It is also known as Hansen’s disease, after the scientist who discovered M. leprae in 1873. The disease is most common in areas that are economically very poor. Overcrowding and poor nutrition mean people’s immune systems are very weak and, therefore, less able to fight the disease.

While in most of the advanced countries, the subject of leprosy is mostly mentioned around World Leprosy Day, observed on the last Sunday of January, the Grand Commandery of the Castello, based at Torri Lanzun, in Mensija, made it its ongoing mission for the last 48 years to fund charities assisting lepers in various countries. Its continuing support through the years has significantly improved the lives and alleviated the sufferings of hundreds of lepers.

The members of the Grand Commandery have been assisting two main charitable organisations: Women in Need (W.I.N.), a UK charity which for the last 20 years has been operating in Nagpur, India, and Kagando Hospital in Uganda.

Every year, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Commandery’s Hospitaller, today head of jurisdiction, Chev. Paul Warren travelled to India and Uganda to monitor the progress being made and to assess the future needs on the ground.

According to the World Health Organisation, India accounts for the majority of new cases of leprosy each year.

Leah Sha Pattison, MBE, founder of Women in Need, said: “I often wonder what it must be like to experience discrimination, abuse, rape, a terminal illness, confusion, fear and pain, and to do so without the comfort of another person being there to lend a helping hand, offer a solution or simply provide a sympathetic ear. It is a question that constantly bothers me as I meet so many women through Women In Need, bearing such misery and loneliness.”

She added: “For the past 11 years, W.I.N. has been the recipient of support from the Grand Commandery of the Castello for a mobile primary health clinic in Nagpur’s urban slums, a small hospice for elderly terminal leprosy patients in Wardha, beds and equipment for abandoned women sheltered by W.I.N, the creation of a garden for abandoned women, as well as other capital equipment.”

The latest donations by the Grand Commandery include £7,800 generated via its first crowdfunding among its members, so that W.I.N. could purchase an iBreast Exam equipment to provide breast cancer screening in remote villages in Wardha District, where leprosy is a constant reality. Currently, only six per cent of underprivileged Indian women know about breast cancer and less still have access to screening. With 2,000 cases detected every day in India, this device is instrumental in saving lives.

Another crowdfunding project led to the purchase of a much-needed brand new second ambulance for W.I.N.

Rev. Canon Uzziah Maate Kiriaghe, bishop of Kasese Diocese (left) and Chev Paul Warren (second from left) inaugurating the Kagando Hospital operating theatre sponsored by the Grand Commandery of the Castello.Rev. Canon Uzziah Maate Kiriaghe, bishop of Kasese Diocese (left) and Chev Paul Warren (second from left) inaugurating the Kagando Hospital operating theatre sponsored by the Grand Commandery of the Castello.

Furthermore, during 2021, the Grand Commandery forwarded three separate donations so that W.I.N. could purchase COVID-19 vaccines, other medicines and food for these underprivileged people.

In 2017, the Grand Commandery began a partnership with Kagando Hospital in Uganda. Through the intervention of a retired Maltese nurse, Rita Miller, who annually visits and further trains their hospital nursing team, the Grand Commandery financed the building of two accommodation units for visiting medical graduates, who are also being trained in assisting lepers. More recently, the Grand Commandery funded a project for the refurbishment of their operating theatre.

While the fight against leprosy is a longstanding mission of the Order of St Lazarus since it was founded in the 11th century, making it one of the longest established organisations in the world, the GCC also assists other causes in Malta. In recent months, the Grand Commandery assisted Dar Hosea, Inspire Foundation, the Lifeline Foodbank Foundation in Valletta and the Malta Hospice Movement.

For more information, contact the Grand Commandery’s information officer via e-mail on info


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