Geoff Prescott

Geoff Prescott is the CEO of Lepra, the leading UK-based charity fighting against leprosy. He has worked throughout the world in the health, humanitarian and children's sectors.

Geoff has been Chief Executive of Merlin, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières (Holland) and CEO of Ormiston Children and Families Trust. He has a degree in International Relations and a Masters in Health Finance and Health Planning. He also qualified as a nurse and has a variety of infectious and tropical-disease qualifications.

In his spare time, Geoff has volunteered to help establish a Free School and supporting parents with autistic children. He says however that his children now keep him fully employed as an entertainer, taxi, ATM, cleaner and waiter. Geoff also suffers from supporting Arsenal football club.

Leprosy is the oldest known disease to humanity, but it is also one of the least understood and accepted. Contrary to popular belief, it is also a disease that is very much with us. To the public at large, leprosy is a largely forgotten disease with many believing it was eliminated or consigned to the bible. But as we enter 2019, official figures say it affects 4 million people, with another 3 million undiagnosed. These figures are accepted to be significantly underestimated. A big part of our work at Lepra is therefore to raise awareness both in the UK and in the wider world that leprosy exists and is still destroying lives. While we're not certain exactly how transmission occurs, the myth that a single contact with an infected person can transmit the disease is definitely inaccurate. Prolonged, close contact is required, and it is important to remember that 95% of the population is naturally immune to the disease. Another myth that can be debunked is that body parts simply fall off. Leprosy attacks the nerves of areas such as arms, feet and eyes that can then lose feeling. Once the disease begins attacking the extremities, injuries caused to them cannot be felt, leading to infection, ulcers and at worst case, amputations. Worryingly, immune reactions to leprosy can be crippling, painful and lead to disability. Early detection is essential to reduce the numbers of people suffering these debilitating disabilities, yet I've found that "active case finding" (i.e., early detection, treatment, disability care and changing the perception of leprosy) is not a priority for many countries. I therefore believe that more investment is needed in this area. At Lepra , we work in India, Bangladesh and Mozambique to find, diagnose and treat people affected by leprosy. If early detection is scaled-up,...