Pope seeks to end stigma over Huntington's disease

Pope Francis caresses a sick woman during an audience with Huntington's disease sufferers and their families, in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, May 18, 2017 i)

Pope Francis caresses a sick woman during an audience with Huntington's disease sufferers and their families, in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, May 18, 2017 i)

The Pope is trying to end the stigma of people afflicted with Huntington's Disease.

Francis held an audience at the Vatican with Huntington's sufferers and their families, as well as patient organisations and researchers trying to find treatments and a cure.

Pope Francis greets an ill girl accompanied by Argentine singer Axel, right, during an audience with Huntington's disease families, in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pope Francis greets an ill girl accompanied by Argentine singer Axel, right, during an audience with Huntington's disease families, in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Thursday, May 18, 2017

The incurable genetic disorder affects the brain, and has a range of symptoms including serious involuntary movements and psychiatric problems. Many sufferers are left shunned and isolated in their communities.

Organisers said Francis is the first world leader to recognise the plight of those with Huntington's, and said the audience marked the start of a global awareness campaign.

Many of the families came from South America, where Huntington's is 1,000 times more prevalent than in the rest of the world.

It is particularly prevalent in Venezuela, where the affected gene was first identified 25 years ago.

Pope Francis hugs a boy during an audience with Huntington's disease families

Pope Francis hugs a boy during an audience with Huntington's disease families