The many centuries during which leprosy was an incurable disease gave rise to myths and practices that have deep roots in cultures around the world. Below is a list of some of the forms of stigma and discrimination experienced by persons affected by leprosy.
Persons affected by leprosy have been segregated within their own homes or forced to live elsewhere. The resulting stigma can persist long after a person has been cured, and some people are never able to return home.
Obstacles to marriage
Leprosy has been recognized as a legitimate reason for divorce in some countries. A person who contracts leprosy, especially a woman, is likely to have difficulty finding a partner.
Denial of education
There have been cases of children with leprosy or those who grew up in a leprosy community being prevented from enrolling in schools and denied an education.
Legal restrictions and prohibitions
There are over 150 laws and regulations in various parts of the world that discriminate against persons affected by leprosy, restricting them from using public transportation, running as a candidate in elections, and getting married.
List of discriminatory laws at International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) website
Denial of reproductive and family-related rights
In the past, persons affected by leprosy in some countries were prevented from having and raising children. Policies included forced sterilization and forced removal of babies soon after birth. The consequences of these policies continue to affect people today.
Stigmatizing images and language
The use of insensitive imagery and derogatory terminology such as “leper” to describe a person with leprosy continues to reinforce the stigmatization of those with the disease. The use of leprosy as a metaphor has a similar effect.
The many forms of discrimination experienced by persons affected by leprosy tend to result in self-stigma. Internalization of a culture’s negative prejudicial beliefs affects feelings of self-worth and can make a person affected by leprosy less likely to seek medical treatment and human rights.
Visit the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s page to learn about Yohei Sasakawa’s contributions to gaining recognition for leprosy as a human rights issue.
Read about the Initiative’s strategies for eliminating discrimination.
History and documents related to the Principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
Information about the appointment and mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.