What is leprosy

Leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is a chronic infectious disease caused by bacteria, mainly spread through droplets from the nose and mouth of people suffering from untreated leprosy. The disease, which can have a long incubation period, causes disfiguring lesions on the skin and nerve damage.

The first stage of leprosy leads to loss of sensation and muscle weakness in facial muscles, hands, and feet (known as Grade 1 disability). If the disease is not detected and treated, it progresses to a second stage that causes observable and permanent impairments, such as loss and shortening of fingers and toes, and vision loss (known as Grade 2 disability).

Leprosy is most common in areas of poverty, where overcrowding and poor nutrition make people more vulnerable to infection, and where it continues to be a major source of disability and social exclusion for persons affected and their families. The consequences of leprosy can often persist beyond completion of treatment.

People affected by leprosy

3 countries account for 80% of the global burden (Brazil, India and Indonesia) 192,713 people receiving treatment as at the end of 2017

WHO NTD roadmap targets for leprosy

The World Health Organization’s roadmap on NTDs set out a comprehensive plan for the control, elimination and eradication of various neglected tropical diseases by 2020, including leprosy.

Leprosy target: Global elimination by 2020

Registered cases per 10,000 population of leprosy (prevalence rates)

Number of new cases reported per year of leprosy


  • Data is provided by the World Health Organization
  • Photo: Uniting to Combat NTDs / Matilda Temperley