What is leprosy?

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

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

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

Brazil, India and Indonesia account for 80% of the global burden.

People affected by leprosy

Three countries account for 80% of the global burden of leprosy 208,619 new cases were recorded in 2018

Source: WHO data 2018

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