Oral Statement at UNHRC 6th Session Parallel Meeting: “Message on Leprosy and Human Rights”

Geneva, Switzerland

Mr. Chairman, I wish to draw the attention of the Human Rights Council to the issue of leprosy and human rights.

Since the development of an effective cure for leprosy in 1980s, some 15 million people worldwide have been cured of the disease. Only four countries remain where leprosy is still a public health problem. In these four countries, as elsewhere, the necessary medication to cure leprosy is available free to all who need it. Leprosy is no longer a “right to health” issue.

However, Mr. Chairman, leprosy remains an issue of discrimination and poverty. Tens of millions of people cured of leprosy and their families are marginalized by society, suffering from stigma and social discrimination due to ignorance, misunderstanding, indifference, and groundless fear on the part of general public. Their access to employment is limited even if they are physically fit; their children are often denied admission to schools; they face impediments to marriage, while a diagnosis of leprosy can lead to divorce. Financially, their position is difficult in the extreme, and their circumstances corner them into poverty.

Discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families is multifold. Still more worrying is that this discrimination is most apparent among those in a vulnerable position: women, children, those with disabilities, the elderly.

Mr. Chairman, people affected by no other disease continue to suffer this degree of stigma and social discrimination even after they are medically cured.

No other group of discriminated people of this size has slipped from the attention of human rights defenders.

Millions of people would benefit if this discrimination is brought to an end.

In recent years, this issue has been dealt with at the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. We believe, Mr. Chairman, that the issue should now be taken up by the Human Rights Council for further study and discussion. We hope that this will eventually result in the development of a set of principles and guidelines to be followed by all stakeholders–including governments, UN agencies, and NGOs–in order to end leprosy-related discrimination and remedy the situation.

Thank you.