Righting the Wrongs of Leprosy

At its 15th session, ending this month, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution encouraging governments to eliminate discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Leprosy is now completely curable, but the need to adopt such a resolution attests to the extent of discrimination against sufferers and their families that still persists.

TOKYO – At its 15th session, which ended at the beginning of October, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution encouraging governments to eliminate discrimination against people affected by leprosy – and their family members. As the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I have long campaigned for this outcome.

Leprosy is one of the world’s oldest diseases. It has a physical dimension, but also social and psychological components. For much of its long history, there was no known cure. It was only in the latter part of the twentieth century that a truly effective chemotherapy became available. Since the introduction of multidrug therapy in the early 1980’s, roughly 16 million people around the world have been cured. In virtually every country in the world, leprosy is no longer regarded as a public-health problem.

Caught early and addressed promptly, leprosy need leave no trace. Only when the disease goes untreated does the damage caused to the peripheral nerves lead to loss of sensation and invite ulceration and wounds. Unchecked, leprosy disfigures and can result in permanent disability.

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