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Ensuring the human rights of people affected by leprosy

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee has recommended the repeal of all laws which discriminate against people affected by leprosy. The comprehensive draft set of principles and guidelines also recommend that States enact legislation to ensure people affected by leprosy and their family members do not suffer discrimination in employment, education, health, marriage, religion, use of public utilities and public places.

A health worker in Sudan dispenses multidrug therapy to an elderly leprosy patient © WHO/TDR/Crump The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee is a body composed of 18 independent experts who serve as a think tank to the Human Rights Council. The guidelines which have been formulated following extensive research and discussion will be submitted to the Council at its next meeting in September (A/HRC/15/30).

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

Leprosy is now a disease which has been eliminated as a public health problem in most countries and radically reduced in others. The World Health Organization estimates that in just 25 years, more than 15 million cases of leprosy have been cured.

Although it is curable and – if diagnosed on time - disabilities resulting from this disease can be prevented, leprosy continues to carry a strong social stigma. It is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind and historically people with the condition, and their family members, have been despised and abandoned. 

States and communities believing the disease might spread and afraid of the serious physical deformities it could cause used to systematically isolate those who have the disease and their families. In more recent years, legislation and policies in several countries around the world has been reformed to avoid isolation.

Nonetheless, despite the extraordinary progress that has been made there are thousands of people who still suffer from leprosy. In many places these people still suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including denial of access to work, education or community life.

Leprosy is one of several neglected diseases in the world, which affect the poorest, most disadvantaged members of society.

13 August 2010