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Leprosy: Expert calls on Brazil to redouble efforts to end discrimination


  • First official visit by UN leprosy expert since creation of mandate
  • Nearly 27,000 new cases reported in Brazil in 2017, up from previous year
  • Health care, employment and education concerns for those affected

BRASILIA (14 May 2019) – A UN human rights expert expressed serious concerns about the number of children affected by leprosy in Brazil, many of whom are denied access to schooling, and urged the Government to take urgent steps to ensure the rights of those affected with the disease are protected.

In the first official country visit since the creation of the mandate, Special Rapporteur Alice Cruz assessed the situation in Brazil, which has the second highest rate of new cases worldwide. Latest data from the World Health Organization shows there were 26,875 leprosy cases in 2017.

"I welcome the commitment of the Brazilian Government to become a global leader on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their family members and on the full protection of their rights, but the Government should take vigorous steps towards this objective," Cruz said in a statement at the end of her eight-day visit.

The UN expert expressed serious concerns about the prevailing stigma associated with the disease, and the lack of understanding about transmission and treatment. "Contrary to popular conception, leprosy is a curable disease, it is difficult to transmit and after the first doses of treatment there is no risk of transmission," Cruz said.

"I acknowledge the efforts of the Brazilian Government to fight discrimination against this vulnerable group, but I still find significant gaps that need to be addressed. Persons affected by leprosy continue to experience prejudice, structural and interpersonal discrimination and have limited access to fundamental rights and substantive equality.

"They still struggle to receive appropriate and comprehensive health care, obtain education and employment, and some are still searching for their children who were forcibly taken in the past," said Cruz.

She expressed her serious concern that the rate of children diagnosed with physical impairments was still very high and that many were denied access to schooling on the grounds of leprosy.

"More must be done to ensure early detection, prompt treatment, rehabilitation and reconstructive surgery," the UN expert said. "An adequate standard of living must be ensured by poverty reduction policies, as well as accessibility and reasonable accommodation at schools and work settings. Many people who are affected have asked the authorities to take decisive steps to protect their rights, including affirmative policies to tackle inequality and reparation measures for physical and psychosocial impairments and disabilities caused as a result of past policies," she added.

During her visit, the expert met federal and local government representatives in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Belem, as well as representatives of civil society organizations, academics and health professionals. She also met people affected by leprosy and their family members in Curupaiti, Rocinha, Marituba and Combu island.

Her final report, including findings and key recommendations, will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020. 


Ms Alice Cruz is the first UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, appointed in November 2017 by the Human Rights Council. Ms. Cruz worked as External Professor at the Law School of University Andina Simón Bolívar – Ecuador and in several Portuguese universities as researcher on health and human rights, in particular leprosy. She participated in the elaboration of WHO Guidelines for Strengthening Participation of Persons Affected by Leprosy in Leprosy Services. She has researched and written on the subject of eliminating leprosy and the stigma attached to it and has interacted with various stakeholders, including persons affected by leprosy.

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.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact:
In Brazil (during the visit): Ms. Angela Pires Terto (angela.pires@one.un.org)
In Geneva (after the visit): UN Human Rights Officer Ms. Younkyo Ahn (yahn@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org

Follow the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

Follow the Special Rapporteur on leprosy (personal pages) on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/srleprosy and Twitter @srleprosy