Leprosy: We are failing our children
GENEVA (24 January 2019) – Children are among the most vulnerable to leprosy and face life-altering challenges because of physical impairments and stigmatization associated with this neglected disease, a UN human rights expert says.
Leprosy can be easily cured if detected and treated early. Otherwise, it can lead to irreversible damage on the nerves, limbs and eyes.
There were 210,671 new cases of leprosy reported to the World Health Organization in 2017, mainly from India, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria and the Philippines.
“Children affected by leprosy remain invisible and many cases go undetected. The available data on leprosy-related impairments for children is shamefully high, indicating a failure of the health systems to control leprosy and to protect children from the disease,” Alice Cruz, a UN human rights expert specialising in the disease, said in a statement to mark World Leprosy Day on 27 January.
Cruz said archaic laws in many countries discriminate against those affected, treating them as social outcasts. The Special Rapporteur welcomed the recent decision by the Supreme Court of India to promote the social inclusion of persons affected by leprosy. She urged further legal revisions to end discrimination, and reiterated her willingness to visit and provide assistance to States.
“It is shameful and unacceptable that we are failing our children. States have a duty to protect children from leprosy and from the structural violence that negatively impacts on their overall life course.”
Ms Alice Cruz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, is external Professor at the Law School of University Andina Simón Bolívar – Ecuador. Her doctoral work in sociology focuses on the biosocial dimensions of leprosy and identifies, in countries where leprosy is an endemic neglected disease and in countries where it is an imported and rare disease, the different barriers to access to early diagnosis and to high quality care by persons affected by leprosy, as well as their social, economic, familiar and personal life conditions.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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