Anti-leprosy laws must be repealed, say UN human rights experts

A health worker in Sudan dispenses multidrug therapy to an elderly leprosy patient

13 August 2010 – United Nations independent human rights experts have urged the repeal of all laws discriminating against people affected by leprosy, which has been eliminated as a public health problem in most countries but still carries a strong social stigma.

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, composed of 18 independent experts serving as a think tank for the Council, have drafted a set of principles and guidelines also recommending that States enact laws to ensure that those affected by leprosy and their family members do not suffer discrimination in employment, health, marriage, and the use of public utilities and places.

The disease, one of the oldest known to mankind, is curable if diagnosed in time and disabilities caused by it can be prevented.

However, historically, people with the condition and their families have been despised and abandoned.

“Only after the elimination of social discrimination can the international community say that leprosy has truly vanished,” said Advisory Committee member Shigeki Sakamoto.

Those who have the disease and their families have been systematically isolated for years by States and communities which believe leprosy can spread and are afraid of the deformities it could cause.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in just a quarter century, more than 15 million cases of leprosy – which affects the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society – have been cured.

But despite this extraordinary progress, thousands of people still suffer from the neglected disease, and in many places, they still suffer discrimination.


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