Leprosy 'airbrushed' out of Princess Diana's documentaries

Reuters

Leprosy campaigners are accusing Princess Diana's documentary makers of 'airbrushing' out her work with patients amid an alarming re-emergence of the disease.

Peter Waddup, the new national director of Leprosy Mission in England and Wales, said Diana's work with the homeless, AIDS patients, UK hospital patients and victims of landmines were all highlighted in recent tributes marking the 20th anniversary of her death. 

Tellingly there was no mention of her groundbreaking work with leprosy patients – arguably the world's most stigmatised disease – he added, despite the fact The Leprosy Mission was one of just six charities she stayed on as a patron for after 1996.

'Princess Diana made huge strides in tackling the prejudice surrounding leprosy but tragically, since her death, leprosy has returned to being the "forgotten disease".

'It really drew the world's attention to this ancient disease and, in one fell swoop, dispelled many of the myths surrounding the disease like it can be passed on by touch.'

But he said with her death, there was an assumption leprosy had been dealt with.

'Research reveals millions of new leprosy cases are going undiagnosed and the fact the number of new leprosy cases where people have already developed an irreversible disability is rising demonstrates the desperate need to diagnose and treat the disease sooner. This is something our staff across Asia and Africa are working tirelessly to achieve.

'Perhaps the assumption that leprosy is a disease of the past is why the media seems to be airbrushing Diana's work with leprosy patients – a cause she was passionate about – from history.'

He went on to say leprosy patients still suffer stigma for the disease.

Shovakhar Kandel, country leader for The Leprosy Mission Nepal, was a junior officer at Anandaban Hosptial at the time of Diana's visit there in 1993.

A doctor, Arie, examines the foot of a leprosy patientLeprosy Mission

'She didn't wear gloves and touched patients with her bare hands. She didn't seem to have the fear that many others have.'

Retired British GP, then superintendent of Anandaban Hospital at the time of Diana's visit, Dr Ruth Butlin, recalled the Princess's landmark visit:

'Most people come to see the work of the hospital, it's about the bigger picture. But Diana came to see the patients. It was about the people's stories for her.

'When she came into the hospital we expected her to stand by the bed and talk, but she sat on their beds and held their hands. The patients were touched and overwhelmed by her kindness.'

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