Leaders of People Affected by Leprosy Request Pope Francis to Speak Out against Discrimination

The leaders of organizations of people affected by leprosy from nine countries and Yohei Sasakawa, WHO goodwill ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and chairman of the Nippon Foundation, have written a letter (PDF/199KB) to Pope Francis urging the Catholic Church to speak out against leprosy-related discrimination and labels that perpetuate stigmas related to the disease.

The letter has been prompted by the Pope’s use of the term “leprosy” in reference to aspects of the Church that he seeks to reform. In recent months he has said that “careerism is a leprosy” and “the court is the leprosy of the papacy.”

In their letter dated December 10, Sasakawa and representatives of people affected by leprosy from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States write that using the disease as a metaphor for something negative or corrupt “perpetuates deeply ingrained stereotypes and makes it harder to alleviate the devastating social, economic and psychological impact that leprosy can have.”

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a bacterial disease that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. Left untreated, it can lead to permanent disability. Around 230,000 new cases are reported annually.

Although the disease is curable and treatment is free, people affected by leprosy still face discrimination in various parts of the world, leaving them isolated and marginalized.

In December 2010, the United Nations approved a resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Accompanying Principles and Guidelines call for an end to the use of derogatory terminology, urge the media to portray people affected by leprosy in a dignified way and note the role that religious leaders can play in eliminating discrimination through their teachings and writings.

In their letter, the signatories say they would “welcome a strong call by the Catholic Church on the occasion of World Leprosy Day 2014 for an end to stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy—including the use of discriminatory language,” adding that they look to the Pope with anticipation for such a message.

“All of us are ready to join forces with Your Holiness to attack the labels that perpetuate stigma.”

World Leprosy Day 2014 is January 26.

The Nippon Foundation


Natsuko Tominaga
Public Relations Department
The Nippon Foundation