SCOTS have been urged to back a campaign to fight one of the most ancient of diseases which, contrary to popular belief say campaigners, is not entirely a thing of the past.

The Leprosy Mission Scotland has appealed to the Scottish Government and the public to support their moves to fight the disease in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Leprosy is a contagious condition which causes nerve damage, muscle weakness and skin ulcers.

While it is easily treatable with antibiotics if caught early, all too often it is detected too late, leaving people with severe disfigurement and permanent disability as their limbs may have to be amputated.

READ MORE: World Health Organisation concerned of Tanzania Ebola ‘cover-up’

The charity released a report yesterday using the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) from the end of last month, to stress the need for early detection of leprosy to prevent the crippling, long-term effects.

According to the statistics, one person is diagnosed with leprosy every two minutes around the world, with more than half of all cases in India.

More than 200,000 people globally were diagnosed with the condition last year, of which 16,000 were children.

The report’s author, Linda de Caestecker, is a volunteer adviser to the charity and has been involved since she was a medical student.

She is also director of public health for Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and it was her link with the charity that ultimately led to her career in public health to better the lives of Glaswegians.

De Caestecker said: “Leprosy here in the UK has almost become a kind of mythical condition when the reality is that it destroys lives and impacts the families of many of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the world today.

“My journey into public health began when I walked into the Leprosy Mission Scotland’s offices as a medical student nearly 40 years ago and ended up spending my summer elective in a leprosy hospital - the Karigiri Leprosy Sanatorium - in South India.

“It was there I learnt about the disability and the stigma attached to the disease, as well as the treatment.

“The experience never left me and indeed led to me wanting to practice public health and to improve things here in Glasgow.”

In her report, she added: “There are opportunities to achieve a leprosy free world but only if we continue to devote resources and attention to the management and prevention of this disease … We are urging people to see it as a human rights issue.

“If urgent action is not taken now, past achievements in leprosy control could be reversed.”

The issue will be highlighted at a reception in the Scottish parliament tomorrow.

The Leprosy Mission Scotland’s chief executive, Linda Todd, said: “Our umbrella organisation, the Leprosy Mission, was started by an Irishman, Wellesley Bailey, who was a Church of Scotland missionary based in Edinburgh.

“Since the charity’s inception in 1874 many Scots have supported the work of the mission with their time, talents and money.

“As we all know, you don’t have to suffer from a disease to empathise and support those who have it.”

Todd added: We’re asking people to donate to help us spot it, treat it and stop it spreading - ultimately our goal is to eradicate transmission of the disease by 2035.”

Celebrity chef, Tony Singh, whose family are from India, is an ambassador for the campaign.

“My family are from Punjab in North India and society drums into you from an early age not to go near people with leprosy,” he said.

“The stigma is huge and I know that throughout history people with leprosy have been turned out and ostracised by their own families and communities.”

“It’s quite staggering that is still the case for some people today which is why I’m backing this important campaign and asking Scots to give generously.”