WORLD LEPROSY DAY: UN expert calls States to put those furthest behind at the centre of recovery efforts

By: Rebecca Collett

UN Special Rapporteur calls States to focus on their most vulnerable during COVID-19, especially those with leprosy.
Photo taken by: Office of Alice Cruz

Often we talk about the physical health effects of leprosy, but for many with the disease, it is the discrimination, stigma, and injustice that makes leprosy so horrifying. Many with leprosy lack basic human rights- including access to care- which, in turn, pushes those affected into the shadows, worsening their physical health. With COVID-19, we have seen these issues magnified in many places.

For World Leprosy Day, Alice Cruz, human rights expert and *UN special rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, released a statement calling for the elimination of “double standards” and put those furthest behind at the centre of recovery, from leprosy to COVID-19.

You can read the statement in full here. Here are some of the highlights:

  • “We should learn from the history of leprosy. To better fight against an epidemic or a pandemic, we must eliminate discrimination and double standards for those who have been systematically left behind.”

  • “The world witnessed the massive negative impacts of COVID-19 and the crisis it generated: from deprivation of rights to family life, education, housing, employment, to domestic and sexual violence. Sadly, this is what persons affected by leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease) have been experiencing for thousands of years....And till today, they remain forgotten, without reparations or a vaccine.”

  • “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, I have been receiving numerous reports on a disproportionately negative impact on persons affected by leprosy in many countries...We can surely expect rising disparities and a setback in leprosy control, transmission and prevention of disabilities, as well as in the worsening of an already extremely precarious standard of living.”

  • “It is deeply disturbing that since mid-2020, persons who have been diagnosed with leprosy have not received essential drugs, (namely multidrug therapy – MDT –, which is distributed free of charge) to treat the disease, in some countries, including Brazil.”

  • “And the main lesson is that there is no building back better if States fail to put those left behind at the centre of recovery.”