Human Rights and Leprosy

Since multi-drug therapy was introduced in the early 1980’s, some 16 million people have been cured of leprosy worldwide. Yet, even after a person is free of the disease, the stigma attached to it has the potential to disrupt people’s lives in ways that no drug can cure.

PRAGUE – At the end of last year, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution approving principles and guidelines to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their family members.

This resolution marked the culmination of several years of lobbying of UN institutions by groups and individuals devoted to focusing attention on an overlooked human rights issue: the social discrimination suffered by people diagnosed with leprosy. Indeed, the discrimination usually continues even after they are cured, blighting not only their lives, but the lives of their family members.

For much of its long history, leprosy was feared as an incurable, disfiguring disease. People who came down with it were ejected from their communities. They often ended up in isolated villages or remote islands, condemned by society to spend the rest of their days as social outcasts.