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Stigma and shame still surround leprosy victims, warn top rights experts

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A trader affected by leprosy waits for customers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. [ILO/Fiorente A]

NEW YORK, USA – Although leprosy is age-old and can be cured, the disease is still endemic in more than 120 countries, leaving an estimated one to two million people visibly disfigured and lacking support to cope with the stigma they face.

That’s the urgent message from top UN-appointed human rights experts on Thursday who said that some 200,000 new cases of leprosy are registered each year worldwide.

People suffering from leprosy, which is also known as Hansen’s disease, have a right to high-quality support and health care, the rights experts maintained, urging governments and international organizations to make sure their policies and procedures reflect this fundamental requirement.

‘Ex-colonies’

In a statement endorsed by the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Women, the rights experts noted that leprosy patients and their families continue to be segregated in “ex-colonies”, kept away from public spaces and interaction with other people.

Ahead of World Leprosy Day on 28 January, the rights experts – who are known as Special Rapporteurs – stressed that affected persons had a right to early detection and treatment as well as rehabilitation and active support.

Children, the elderly and women are particularly affected by leprosy and judgmental attitudes and policies towards the disease, along with minorities and indigenous peoples, the rights experts said.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council. They do not receive a salary for their work and serve in their individual capacity.

World Leprosy Day 28 January 2024

World Leprosy Day (WLD) is celebrated on the last Sunday of January.

The theme for World Leprosy Day 2024 is “Beat Leprosy”. This theme encapsulates the dual objectives of the day: to eradicate the stigma associated with leprosy and to promote the dignity of people affected by the disease.

The theme of “Beat Leprosy” serves as a powerful reminder of the need to address the social and psychological aspects of leprosy, alongside the medical efforts to eliminate the disease. It calls for a world where leprosy is no longer a source of stigma but rather an opportunity to demonstrate compassion and respect for all individuals.

In India, it is observed on 30 January every year, coinciding with the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Leprosy is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) which still occurs in more than 120 countries, with more than 200, 000 new cases reported every year.

The aim of observing World Leprosy Day is to create awareness against the stigma attached to the disease, by making the general community aware that it is a disease spread by a type of bacteria and it can be easily cured.

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