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Why Is Brazil Trying to Hide The Leprosy Problem?

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Why Is Brazil Trying to Hide The Leprosy Problem?

brazil leprosy

January 26th was Leprosy Day. However, the day came and went without much notice in many parts of the world, probably because in most parts of the world, leprosy doesn’t have the sort of large foothold that it had in ancient times. However, there are some places in the world where leprosy does have a foothold, and the governments there are doing their best to cover up the disease and brush it under the rug.

Brazil is one of those countries. WHO has made MDT treatments available for free to all patients worldwide since 1995. MDT is a simple yet highly effective cure for leprosy. Unfortunately, Brazil isolates its leprosy victims into communities that are treated with prejudice – forced to live in run-down towns and provided with low quality food and the barest of essential living supplies.

Artur Custodio, the National Coordinator of the Movement for Reintegration of People Affecte by Hanseniasis (Morhan), told The Guardian that Brazil even changed the name of the disease from leprosy to hanseniasis in the 1990’s. Marco Collovati, an expert in leprosy diagnostic tests, told the Guradian that the change was made in order to reduce “the stigma that the word generates for people who have this disease.”

Unfortunately, according to Marco, it also misleads patients into thinking that they only have a simple skin disease, when in reality they have a very serious and debilitating disease that demands immediate and intense treatment so that it doesn’t cause longer lasting and more permanent damage.

The Brazil Leprosy Cover-Up

Marco told The Guardian that there are two ways to eradicate leprosy from a country. The first is to diagnose as many people as possible and treat them, the second way – the Brazilian way – is to not diagnose the disease at all. Marco explains:

“So, if you don’t diagnose the disease, the disease simply disappears.”

One example, displayed in a heart-wrenching video distributed by the BBC this year, is the leper colony of Tavares De Macedo in Itaborai, approximately 60 kilometers from Rio De Janeiro. The colony consists of a shocking 7,000 residents made up of patients and their families. There are 33 such “old colonies” across all of Brazil.

According to Custodio, the colonies were originally created in the 1920s to exclude lepers from society.

brazil leprosy

In the video, one man named Alvin Macedo – a 74 year old resident who lived in the colony for over 58 years, described how at the beginning of his time in the colony, things were good. There was food and shelter. “We had everything,” he explained. “They gave us clothes, they gave us food.”

He went on to explain that the situation today is much different. The colonies are forgotten and falling apart. Little to no investment is made in the colonies by the government, and the condition is almost unimaginable for the people living there.

“Now the food is horrible. There are some vegetables that not even a dog can eat.”

Collovati explains that there is no incentive for anyone to invest in the colonies. When asked why no one is putting any money into the colonies, he explained:

Because it’s not an interesting thing to invest in? Because there’s no political return? Doesn’t give fame, celebrity? Because nobody wants to know about leprosy?”

That is exactly the case. According to the WHO, even though places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique have accomplished full national elimination of leprosy by 2007, there remain locations where the problem of leprosy persists at unimaginable levels, considering that a treatment and a method to eradicate the terrible illness is available. Problem areas that remain include Angola, Brazil, Central Africa, India, Madagascar, Nepal and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Leprosy is a contagious disease that causes problems with skin, mucous membranes, and the nervous system. I causes discoloration of the skin and in many cases even disfigurement and deformity. The tragedy of the disease is that when it is caught early enough, it is entirely treatable through a mix of medications called MDT.

brazil leprosy

A 2003 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that in Ceara, Brazil, leprosy there was clearly associated with high poverty levels. The researchers theorized that the urbanization – the use of colonies such as those in Brazil – actually further serve to not only increase social inequality by excluding certain people “from social and material opportunities”, but also make those people much more “susceptible for leprosy”.

Most of the younger victims in these colonies never would have had the disease progress further if it had been caught early enough. Unfortunately, the Brazilian government has failed these younger victims in a big way, and continue to fail future young victims of this preventable disease.

Most other countries throughout the world have faced the problem of leprosy and evolved past the ancient days where leprosy victims were treated as social outcasts. Maybe some day, countries like Brazil and India will socially evolve, and catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to finally dealing with its leprosy problem.

Originally published on

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
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Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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