Pontiff Links Leprosy to Poverty

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI appealed to world leaders to take the necessary measures to put an end to the abject poverty that is a root cause of leprosy.

The Holy Father made his appeal today, the 53rd World Day of Leprosy, after praying the Angelus with the crowd that gathered in St. Peter\'s Square.

As Benedict XVI himself recalled, the world day was an initiative instituted in 1954 by French writer, poet and journalist Raoul Follereau (1903-1977), who dedicated his life to combat the disease.

In his address, the Holy Father greeted \"all those suffering from this illness,\" and encouraged the \"missionaries, health agents, and volunteers committed on this front of service to man.\"

\"Leprosy is a symptom of a more serious and widespread ill,\" he added. \"For this reason, as my predecessors did, I renew my appeal to leaders of nations to make every effort to overcome together the serious imbalances that still penalize the greater part of humanity.\"

According to data of the World Health Organization, leprosy is receding. The number of people suffering from leprosy dropped from 763,262 reported cases in 2001, to 407,791 in 2004.

At the start of last year there were 47,596 declared cases of leprosy were reported in Africa, 36,877 in the Americas, 186,182 in Southeast Asia, 5,398 in the Eastern Mediterranean, and 10,010 in the western Pacific.