Talking leprosy: Irene Allen

November 26, 2018

Irene Allen joined Lepra in 1981 as the Director’s Secretary, and then became Research and Projects Officer, Information Officer, and finally Assistant Editor to Leprosy Review. She is also Lepra’s archivist and historian. Irene will be retiring at the end of November, so we asked for her reflections on her time with Lepra and work with the leprosy community.

My inspiration for working in leprosy was a young woman I met in India, whose husband had thrown her out and children were taken away from her because of her leprosy. She had just undergone corrective surgery to straighten her clawed fingers and looked so sad that I put my arm around her. When she gave a sharp intake of breath, I asked our doctor to apologise if I had offended her. He said it was just that people don’t hug those with leprosy. That brought a lump to my throat, and is why I have stayed in leprosy all these years.

The history of our overseas workers has always fascinated me, as they went out to fight a disease that was still quite unfamiliar. Their courage and fortitude has always motivated me to ensure their story was told.

Stigma is an enduring yet urgent challenge for us all to tackle, but ignorance and fear of the disease makes this very difficult. A medical approach alone is not enough; people need to be treated holistically in order to restore their dignity and self-esteem. We need a concerted effort to educate the general public that leprosy is a totally curable disease and need not lead to deformities if treated early enough.

Through Leprosy Review I have met some wonderful authors and reviewers. I’ve also had the privilege of working with four excellent Editors and an incredible team on the Editorial Board. We have always fought to enable the journal to be sent out free of charge where it is most needed, and for those who do pay for it, the price has not increased for years.

Leprosy Review owes a debt of gratitude to ILEP members who have always supported the publication of Leprosy Review. With your help, we will beat leprosy.


Photos clockwise from upper left: Irene with some of the letters from children during the 1996 ‘Blue Peter Appeal’, a visit to Sonepur and the Lepra BOLEP project, Lepra Review, and another photo from the trip to Sonepur