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VATICAN-HANSENS (UPDATED) Jan-26-2009 (420 words) xxxi

Vatican asks better health care for children with Hansen's disease

By Nicole Coia
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Children, especially those suffering from Hansen's disease, have a right to adequate health care, said Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan in a statement for World Leprosy Day.

"Children run the risk of seeing their futures mortgaged by the negative consequences of their illness," said Cardinal Lozano, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

The cardinal's statement was released Jan. 22 at the Vatican.

Marking World Leprosy Day at the Vatican Jan. 25, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the international community to assist those with Hansen's disease and their families.

"I ensure them of my prayers and renew my encouragement to those who struggle with them for their complete healing and reintegration into society," Pope Benedict said during his midday Angelus address.

In his statement Cardinal Lozano focused on the needs of children with Hansen's disease and cited statistics from the World Health Organization, which in 2007 said there were more than 250,000 new cases of Hansen's, with 12 percent involving children.

He urged public and governmental institutions to respect "the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of the illness and rehabilitation of health."

Health care is among the rights recognized by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Started 56 years ago, World Leprosy Day promotes awareness and corrects misconceptions about Hansen's disease -- the formal name for leprosy -- and provides an opportunity to extend thanks to those who have served its sufferers, Cardinal Lozano said.

Calling on Catholics around the world to maintain the fight against Hansen's and the prejudices against those with the disease, the cardinal praised Blessed Damien de Veuster, a Belgian-born missionary priest who served Hansen's disease patients on Molokai in Hawaii more than a century ago.

He called Blessed Damien "a lighthouse of faith and love" and "the symbol of all those consecrated to Christ with religious vows who still today dedicate their lives to such people."

Cardinal Lozano also acknowledged the late Raoul Follereau, a Frenchman who established World Leprosy Day in an effort to combat the stigma against the disease.

"To those who suffer from Hansen's disease, to men and women religious missionaries active in the field, and the social and health care workers who help them," said Cardinal Lozano, "I express the nearness of this Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry."


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