Leprosy

(Practice Questions:

Q.1. Leprosy does not only have a social stigma but also a statutory stigma attached to it. Comment. – 150 words.

Q.2. The Supreme Court of India has taken up the cause of the leprosy affected persons in India in a progressive manner. Analyse. – 150 words.

Q.3. Despite being declared eliminated in India in 2005, leprosy has resurfaced its ugly head. Which factions of the society are the most affected by leprosy currently and why? Suggest remedial measures to eradicate leprosy from India. – 250 words.)

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae. It usually affects the skin and peripheral nerves, but has a wide range of clinical manifestations. The disease is characterised by long incubation period generally 5-7 years and is classified as paucibacillary or multibacillary, depending on the bacillary load. Leprosy is a leading cause of permanent physical disability. Timely diagnosis and treatment of cases, before nerve damage occurred, is the most effective way of preventing disability due to leprosy.

Leprosy is effectively cured in India with MDT (multi drug therapy) since 1985. It is not an infectious or a contagious disease any more but the stigma associated with it is unacceptable.

The disease was pronounced eliminated in India in 2005.

Source: The Hindu

The state of Leprosy in India:

India officially eliminated Leprosy in 2005 by bringing the Prevalence Rate below 1/10000 at the national level. However, the National Health Policy 2017 (NHP), which will guide the health policy direction of the country over the next decade or so, still has elimination of Leprosy as a national level target.

As per the annual report of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) for 2016-17, which is being run by the government, there were still 86,000 leprosy cases on record as on April 1, 2016. India still has more than half of world’s total leprosy patients (at least 57%), says another report released by the government in 2017.

Leprosy is at risk of becoming a disease exclusively of the Adivasis in certain states like Gujarat, where despite constituting 14.8% of the state population, Adivasis bear 64.9% of the total new Leprosy case load.

Source: The Indian Express

The discriminatory laws:

Over 110 Central and State laws discriminate against leprosy patients. The biased provisions in these statutes were introduced prior to medical advancements; now, modern medicine (specifically, multi-drug therapy) completely cures the disease. These laws stigmatise and isolate leprosy patients and, coupled with age-old beliefs about leprosy, cause the patients untold suffering. However, certain positive steps have been taken in this regard.

The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, seeks to make a start in amending these statutes. It attempts to end the discrimination against leprosy persons in various central laws: the Divorce Act, 1869; the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939; the Special Marriage Act, 1954; the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act of 1956. The Bill also eliminates leprosy as a ground for dissolution of marriage or divorce. The amendments introduced in the Bill omit the provisions which stigmatise and discriminate against leprosy-affected persons. The Bill is meant to provide for the integration of leprosy patients into the mainstream. It is in keeping with the UN General Assembly Resolution of 2010 on the ‘Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members’ that it was introduced. India has signed and ratified the Resolution.

The Law Commission of India, in its 256th Report, ‘Eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy’, had also recommended removing the discriminatory provisions in various statutes against leprosy patients.

Source: The Hindu and The Hindu

Intervention by the Supreme Court of India:

Recently, the Supreme Court also asked the Centre whether it would bring in a positive law conferring rights and benefits on persons with leprosy and deeming as repealed all Acts and rules that perpetuated the “statutory stigma” associated with it.

The Supreme Court also directed the government to constitute a separate wing devoted to create and extend public awareness that leprosy is curable and not contagious.

A three-judge Bench led by the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra ordered All India Radio and Doordarshan to air programmes nationally as well as regionally in the States.

The SC observed that there had to be “social awakening” to the fact that leprosy was curable and not contagious, considering the advance made in modern medical science. Afflicted persons could not be exposed to stigma which denuded them of basic human dignity.

Source: The Hindu

Way ahead:

Ending the stigma – end to the culture of ostracisation that most of them face and help remove misconceptions about the disease and dispel the belief that physical segregation of patients is necessary.

Better implementation – Ensuring the effective implementation of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme launched in 1983.

Allocation of funds – There has been a huge reduction in the funds ever since leprosy was declared eliminated (in 2005) that has adversely impacted the non-governmental organisations and civil society activists working for the uplift of the leprosy-affected and cured people.

Increased sensitization – People in the rural areas do not even know MDT is available free and importantly they keep away from health facilities for fear of stigma.

Integration and rehabilitation – Better integration and rehabilitation programmes for the effected (and their family members) into the mainstream society.

 

“Quote – worthy: Leprosy work is not merely medical relief; it is transforming frustration of life into the joy of dedication, personal ambition into selfless service”. – Mahatma Gandhi