In December 1869, Wellesley Bailey, a young Irishman who was working as a teacher in the Punjab in India, came across a row of huts inhabited by men and women with serious disabilities and physical deformities. A colleague explained that they were suffering from leprosy. Bailey was shocked by what he saw. Afterwards he wrote:'I almost shuddered, yet I was at the same time fascinated, and I felt that if there was ever a Christlike work in the world it was to go amongst these poor sufferers and bring them the consolation of the gospel.'
On returning to Ireland in 1874, Wellesley Bailey and his wife Alice began to hold meetings in Dublin to tell friends about their experiences of people affected by leprosy in India, and to raise money'. And so The Leprosy Mission, or The Mission to Lepers as it was known then, was born.
1874-1893 – The Baileys travel extensively in India to see the need of people affected by leprosy and to encourage support work.
1891 – Wellesley Bailey visits Mandalay, Burma, to open the first TLM home for leprosy-affected people outside India.
1917 – The Mission has extended its work throughout India and the Far East and now has 87 programmes in 12 countries, with support offices in eight countries.
1940s – In South India, Paul Brand pioneers medical research and reconstructive surgery on leprosy deformities in hands and feet.
1940s-50s – The first effective cure for leprosy, Dapsone, is introduced. Over the next 15 years, millions of patients are successfully treated.
1950s – The Mission’s work is extended into Africa.
1954 – World Leprosy Day is founded by Raoul Follereau, a French writer, to make sure that people everywhere know that leprosy still exists and is completely curable. It is usually held each year on the last Sunday in January.
1960s – Leprologists work to discover new drugs that are effective against leprosy as many people are discovered to have Dapsone-resistant leprosy.
1965 – The Mission changes its name from 'The Mission to Lepers' to the Leprosy Mission to avoid the negative connotations of the word ‘leper.’
1970s – TLM begins to extend its work to people's homes and communities, rather than just hospitals and asylums.
1980 – Vincent Barry and his team win the 1980 UNESCO Science Prize for their discovery of anti-leprosy drug clofazimine, developed with the assistance of The Leprosy Mission.
1981 – World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a new combination drug treatment for leprosy, MDT (Multi Drug Therapy). People are cured in as little as six months.
1990s – As many more people are cured, caring for people with lasting disabilities through social, economic, and physical rehabilitation becomes increasingly important.
TLM is a global network; the organisation works with governments, communities, local churches, partner health organisations, WHO, and other non-governmental organisations.
It runs leprosy projects and has staff in 28 countries in Africa, South Asia and East Asia Pacific.
A large percentage of TLM's work is focused on India, where the prevalence of leprosy is still high.
Support offices, which raise funds for TLM's work and invest in the development of the field projects, operate in 26 countries, including Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The international office is based in London.
The Leprosy Mission runs 14 hospitals in India. Although these hospitals were initially established to care exclusively for people with leprosy, they are now being developed into community hospitals, providing a wide range of health care services. It is becoming more common for people who have leprosy to be treated on the same wards as those with general medical conditions. This helps to break down the stigma of leprosy. Historically, people have been very fearful of contracting leprosy, believing it to be highly contagious when this is not the case.
Reconstructive surgery: Leprosy attacks the nerves, and if not treated quickly people can lose sensation in their hands and feet leading to injury and disability. The Leprosy Mission provides reconstructive surgery for leprosy-affected people, restoring movement to hands and feet. Dr Paul Brand pioneered tendon transfer surgery which is still used by TLM doctors today.
Leprosy is found predominantly in developing countries and areas where poverty is widespread. Because leprosy can cause disability, and because stigma is so often attached to the disease, leprosy can make poor people poorer.
Along with essential healthcare, The Leprosy Mission provides training and education for leprosy-affected people.
Children whose parents have leprosy, or who have had leprosy themselves, can benefit from school scholarship programmes. TLM pays for the child's schooling, allowing them to gain an education that they otherwise may have missed out on.
TLM has six vocational training centres in India. Here, teenagers and young adults can learn a skill like tailoring, car mechanics, or IT.
At other projects in Africa and other parts of Asia, TLM provides skills training through workshops or one-to-one teaching to enable people to learn a trade with the hope that, in the long term, they will be better equipped to provide for themselves and their families.
Once a leprosy-affected person has lost feeling in their limbs or hands or feet, holding a hot cup, stepping on a nail, or getting too close to a fire, can cause injuries they may not notice. Then the wound may become infected because bacteria get in.
In most of its projects, The Leprosy Mission teaches what's called 'self-care'. Physiotherapists and prevention of disability advisers are on-hand to demonstrate how washing, soaking and oiling skin daily can help prevent infection. This process can also ensure that small cuts do not develop into larger, more difficult-to-treat, ulcers.
The Leprosy Mission provides microcredit loans to those leprosy-affected people in need of economic assistance. These loans enable people to set up a small business, such as small shops, animal breeding, tailoring or petty trading.
Low Cost Houses are a way of improving the living conditions of leprosy-affected people. The Leprosy Mission provides the materials. The community, or a group of volunteers, provides the manpower to complete the building project. TLM often works with international charity Habitat for Humanity to develop housing projects such as these.
In some countries where TLM works, savings groups (or self-help groups) have been established. The members of these groups are encouraged to save a small amount of money each week. The money is then placed into a kitty. The kitty can then be used by the group as a whole - to set up a group business or a community project - or members can apply for an individual loan from the group.
Advocating for people's human rights is another aspect of The Leprosy Mission's work. When necessary, TLM will lobby governments in countries where there is any remaining anti-leprosy legislation, keeping up the pressure until the laws are repealed.
TLM educates people about leprosy, explaining that it's not highly contagious, that it's not a curse from the gods and that it can be cured. This is an effective way of reducing negative attitudes and encouraging greater acceptance of leprosy-affected people.
TLM also encourages leprosy-affected people to speak out for themselves and their rights.
This is a regional office, based in Peterborough. It is part of TLM's global network, raising money and providing support to projects in many of the countries where TLM works.
In June 2015, The Leprosy Mission England and Wales launched their Feet First campaign. By encouraging members of the British public to take on the Barefoot Challenge and go about their lives barefoot for one day, the charity aimed to transform the lives of some of the world's poorest and most marginalised people in Mozambique. Those that took on the challenge were encouraged to share their photos on social media and nominate three friends to also take part. All funds raised during the challenge up until 31 August 2015 were doubled by the UK government.
TLM Northern Ireland's office is based in Lisburn. Much of TLM's support here comes from local churches.
TLM Scotland's offices are based in Stirling. The organisation is led by CEO Linda Todd, and staffed by a combination of paid staff and volunteers. This regional office raises funds for many TLM projects around the world, and raises awareness of leprosy and TLM's work in Scotland.
TLMS support seven of TLM International's implementing countries on their work. These countries are Nigeria, South Sudan, Angola, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Leprosy Mission Scotland seeks to educate, inspire and enable people, their churches, schools, community groups and governmental bodies, to uphold and support people affected by leprosy.
TLM Canada's office is based in Markham, near Toronto, Ontario. This office raises funds for many TLM projects around the world, with a special focus on India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Also, TLM Canada raises awareness of leprosy in Canada and educates Canadians about leprosy. TLM Canada also has a special program for churches to participate in on World Leprosy Day each year.
This is TLM's trading arm, sourcing and selling many goods made by leprosy- or disability-affected people.