As World Leprosy Day rolls around this year on Sunday, Jan. 28, we have much to be excited about from the scientific standpoint. In October, IDRI announced that our promising leprosy vaccine candidate – the first vaccine developed specifically for this debilitating disease – is now in Phase 1 clinical trials in humans. And I’m pleased to say that the trial, which is taking place here in the U.S., is now fully enrolled.

Characterized by the World Health Organization as a “neglected tropical disease,” leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) is one of the most ancient diseases known to humankind, and we are still trying to bring this disease to an end. While we do have great news to report about progress towards new solutions for leprosy, there is still much to be done as outlined in a recent article called “Ten Failings in Global Neglected Tropical Diseases Control.” On that list, leprosy elimination is number 10. And our partners at the American Leprosy Missions report that thousands of children are still at risk of developing disabilities from leprosy; in fact, every day 50 children are diagnosed with leprosy.

A vaccine for leprosy will be a huge step forward in the fight against this ancient disease. In addition to our vaccine trial, we are currently involved in conversations with leprosy endemic countries to see how their programs are working and how we can help. As for what you can do on World Leprosy Day: help us bring awareness to this issue. Most people do not realize that leprosy still exists – it does, but our goal is that one day, it won’t.