by Jessica Mussro, Communications Coordinator, American Leprosy Missions
It can be easy to read Scripture’s command to “love our neighbor as ourselves” as an individual mandate, something to motivate us to be kind and considerate to people around us.
The field of global health, however, pushes us to think in larger terms: to encompass communities, countries or regions. Bringing Christ’s words into this context requires us to move beyond person-to-person acts of kindness and wade into broader questions:
When pursuing care for ourselves, what resources and reception do we hope for?
What is needed to create that standard of care?
Who among our local or global “neighbors” lacks that care?
How can we contribute to sustainable solutions so these neighbors are valued—are loved—the way we want to be?
At American Leprosy Missions, this desire to love our neighbors emerges in our integral mission, informing how we pursue healing in body and spirit for people affected by leprosy and other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Since 1906, our projects and investments have spanned multiple priority areas, from disease detection, diagnosis, treatment, and morbidity management to improving health care capacity through training, system strengthening, disease mapping and more.
We prioritize disease identification, mapping and health worker training so that children affected by Buruli ulcer, like Hannah in Liberia, have better access to the care they need. (See the photo above by Tom Bradley)
Loving our neighbors motivates our and other organizations’ commitments to the CCIH 30×30 Health Systems Initiative, scaling love for neighbors to the system level in order to see consistently better care for greater numbers of people.
Loving our neighbor has been our goal with a 20-year investment in leprosy vaccine research, seeking to make this disease not only treatable, but preventable. Lepvax, the first leprosy-specific vaccine, is entering Phase 1b/2a clinical trials in Brazil this year. We also love our neighbors by building community knowledge about NTDs and creating greater awareness of and compassion for people affected.
With IME Kimpese Hospital in DR Congo, we launched the Faith Leaders Project to train pastors and church leaders to identify NTDs, refer people for care, and follow up with self-care practices and emotional or spiritual support. This year, we are beginning similar work with partners in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, training community members to recognize and report NTDs and refer people affected so they get the treatment and support they need.
These projects and others have resulted in NTDs-related training for nearly 4,300 people since July 2021. Community drug distributors and nursing instructors, volunteers and church leaders, the women leaders of our integrated WASH and NTDs projects with partners in India and Nepal—equipped with knowledge about neglected diseases, these diverse groups are bringing hope and understanding to their neighbors in ways they couldn’t before.
In proclaiming the greatest commandments, Jesus showed that love is the epitome of our work, our purpose, our lives. To love God and love our neighbors, to love God by loving our neighbors, is the whole point. When we start with this love as the motivation for all levels of our work, from national strategic plans to individual home visits, we are changing the world to embody more and more of God’s Kingdom.
American Leprosy Missions is a Silver Sponsor of the 2022 CCIH Conference.