World Leprosy Day was observed on 27 January 2019 (Sunday) with the theme "ending discrimination, stigma and prejudice". However, around 2 Lakh people living in the 800-odd leprosy colonies scattered across India, the vast majority of whom do not have the disease, continue to face discrimination and neglect in public life.
- Nomenclature: It is also known as Hansen's disease (HD), named after the physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen who identified the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae in 1873 as the causative agent of leprosy.
- Type: It is a neglected tropical disease.
- Cause: It is a chronic disease caused by a bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae.
- Transmission: Although not highly infectious, leprosy is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases.
- Impact: The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes. If untreated then it can cause permanent damage to these areas.
- Cure: Leprosy is curable with multidrug therapy (MDT).
- World Leprosy Day: it is observed internationally on January 30 or its nearest Sunday to increase the public awareness of the Leprosy. This day was chosen in commemoration of the death of Mahatma Gandhi, who worked towards improving the life of people affected with leprosy.
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the elimination of leprosy as a public-health concern in India in 2005.
- According to WHO norms, leprosy is eliminated if the prevalence of the disease is less than one case per 10,000 populations.
- In 2005, India achieved statistical elimination of leprosy (In 2015-16 the prevalence rate was 0.660). Next step is complete eradication of the disease.
- National leprosy eradication program: it was launched in 1983 by union health ministry with the following objectives
- Detection of leprosy cases through active surveillance.
- Regular treatment of cases by providing Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT).
- Launching public awareness campaigns to remove social stigma attached to the disease.
Discrimination against people affected with leprosy:
- People affected with leprosy face social stigma like being called as leper and placing them in separate leper colonies.
- Apart from this, various laws are discriminatory towards them e.g.
- Under Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956, higher premium rates are charged from persons affected by leprosy.
- Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 sees leprosy as ‘incurable disease’ and a legitimate ground for divorce.
- Social stigma associated with leprosy acts as a barrier to self-reporting and early treatment.
- Efforts towards removing discrimination against Leprosy affected persons:
- UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution in 2010 on the ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members’. India has signed and ratified it.
- Law Commission of India in its 256th Report titled “Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy”, recommended for removing the discriminatory provisions in various statutes against the persons affected with leprosy.
Directions issued by Supreme Court to Centre and states in September 2018 to end discrimination against leprosy-afflicted persons and those living in leprosy colonies:
- Conduct Periodic National Surveys to determine the prevalence rate.
- Formulate a comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme which shall cater to all basic needs of the leprosy-afflicted persons and their families.
- Integrate treatment of leprosy into general health care, which will usher in a no-isolation method in general wards and OPD services.
- Give wide publicity to the activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP).
- Discontinue using “frightening images” of people afflicted with leprosy in the awareness programmes and instead use “positive images of cured persons sharing their experiences of being cured of leprosy”.
- Ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications are available free of cost and that they do not go out of stock in Primary Health Centres (PHCs).
Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018:
- Recently, in January 2019, Lok Sabha passed the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018.
- Objective: To remove Leprosy as a ground for divorce or separation from the spouse.
- Laws to be amended: For this purpose, it seeks to amend the following five Personal Laws which contain provisions related to marriage and divorce –
- The Divorce Act, 1869,
- The Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939,
- The Special Marriage Act, 1954,
- The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and
- The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956.
- The proposed law, thus implements the recommendations of UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution in 2010 and Law Commission of India.