Leprosy is often imagined as a biblical or medieval topic, but in the twenty-first century leprosy is still a ‘public health problem’ in some parts of the world, particularly in the Global South. Drawing on literature from Science and Technology Studies, this paper explores how the current treatment of leprosy is based on a set of biomedical classifications and offer a view on how the cure is currently being challenged by many patients. This paper is based on field research, consisting of ethnographic incursions in former leper colonies and hospitals, and interviews with current patients, physicians, and biologists in Brazil. Many patients, as well as hospital staff, point out that they would only recognize the cure of leprosy if discharged patients do not have to return to hospitals. Hence, a world without leprosy would only be possible in a world without leprosy reactions. Ever since the advent of the Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) in the 1980s, it has been taken for granted that leprosy can be cured after several months of treatment. However, finishing the MDT regimen does not necessarily lead to the end of the disease. Immunologically mediated episodes known as leprosy reactions may occur in up to 40% of those who have already been discharged, leading to severe and irreversible nerve damage. In this paper, our ultimate aim is to explore how the focus on the break of the transmission chain through MDT, by enacting the cure, might have silenced the lack of knowledge on how to efficiently treat the reactions, and with that, the virtual lack of awareness among new patients about the chronicity of leprosy.
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