“The time has come for all concerned states to make a choice: whether to maintain such discriminatory laws against persons with leprosy, in violation of international human rights standards, or to eliminate such discrimination in legislation without delay,” said Special Rapporteur on the Elimination of Discrimination against Leprosy Patients and Their Families, Alice Cruz.
According to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) data provided by 139 countries for 2020, 127,558 new cases of leprosy were detected worldwide, a 37% decrease in new cases compared to last year.
And some countries even reported more than 50 percent declines.
However, as the COVID pandemic has impacted diagnostics and reporting, the actual numbers could be much higher.
Although this disease is curable, if left undiagnosed and treated, it has the potential to lead to permanent physical damage and disability.
There are discriminatory laws
India’s National Human Rights Commission stated that there are currently 97 discriminatory legal provisions against leprosy patients.
And although India has the most cases, not alone in maintaining leprosy-related discriminatory laws in at least 30 other countries, they are also perpetuated.
Ms. Kruse stated that unjust laws, whether actively enforced or not, motivate, sanction and legitimize significant violations, especially against women.
“The very existence of laws allowing divorce because of leprosy has a devastating effect on women, hindering their access to health care and justice,” a UN expert said yesterday. World Leprosy Daymarked on Sunday.
“By formalizing harmful stereotypes as legal labels and normalizing humiliation and violence as permitted practices, such laws significantly undermine livelihoods, exclude leprosy patients from political and civic participation, and reinforce the state’s disdain for this marginalized group.”
According to the Special Rapporteur, the root causes of this legally discriminatory framework are closely related to early modern medicine’s erroneous definition of leprosy as a highly contagious disease.
Today, with the help of multidrug therapy, the disease is curable, and more than 16 million leprosy patients have been cured over the past 20 years.
“It’s amazing, but many of the existing discriminatory laws were passed long after the discovery of a cure for leprosy in the 1950s,” Ms Cruz said.
“Some of these laws were adopted even in the first decades of the 21st century…[and] encompass the Global North and the Global South.”
The UN expert urged states as a matter of priority to change or repeal discriminatory laws, policies and customs, and to enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws.
Special rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the UN Headquarters in Geneva. Human Rights Council To study and report on a specific topic of human rights. The positions are honorary, and the work of experts is not paid.