MPs to float forum to end stigma against leprosy affected

New Delhi: Indian MPs would soon float a forum to advocate elimination of stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.

"Next parliament session, we will float a forum to end leprosy and advocate the rights of persons affected by the disease," Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi said at an international symposium on leprosy and human rights in Asia.

Also supporting the cause were Minister of State for Human Resource Development and Lok Sabha member D Purandeshwari and Congress Lok Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh Madhu Goud Yakshi.

The MPs minced no words in pointing out that India could not be complacent in its fight against leprosy, a concern which all top visiting anti-leprosy experts voiced today.

The symposium was organised by the Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation,

Visiting Chairman of Nippon Foundation Yohei Sasakawa, who has worked with the WHO for the past 40 years to help eliminate leprosy in 122 nations said, "India has become complacent in the fight against leprosy.

"Fighting the last leg of leprosy is most critical. And India is on the last leg."

Sasakawa, who is also WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, said, "I have started visiting states for creating awareness to stop stigma against Leprosy affected, which has started yielding good results. Some states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have done well in increasing pensions for Leprosy affected from Rs 200 to Rs 1,800 and Rs 1,000 respectively and will now visit more sattes."

India still accounts for 58 per cent of the global leprosy burden of 2.28 lakh cases. In 2009, India reported 1.33 lakh cases, and since then every year the number of cases being detected has remained stagnant at around one lakh, reflecting a high level of complacency.

Leprosy affected people said they did not want more leper colonies to come up because that forced them to live in isolation from the community.

At the Seminar, President of National Forum for leprosy Affected Persons in India V Narsappa said, "Efforts should be made to improve their condition and make them join mainstream of society."

India still had as many as 850 colonies where leprosy affected persons lived along with their families.

He said, "We are now asking the states not to allow any more colonies to come up. There are about 50,000 people in these colonies and only 25 per cent of these people are affected by the disease. The rest are children of patients. They suffer immensely on account of continued stigma and discrimination towards the leprosy affected."

MoS Purandeshwari said "Eight per cent of our districts have eliminated leprosy and only about 4 to 5 per cent now have the prevalence of 1 in 10,000 cases. It is, however, not right to say that since we have theoretically conquered the numbers required for low prevalence, we should allow ourselves to slip into complacency."

She said ministries must talk among themselves to fight leprosy and address issues of mainstreaming those affected.

Calling for significantly raising the allocation for health, she said though she as a minister cannot raise this matter in Parliament and her MP colleagues need to flag the issue.

The Government has now raised the budget to fight leprosy in the 12th Plan byallocating Rs 700 crore to the sector as against less than Rs 200 crore in the last Plan.

Experts in the field said India, which reports more than half of the new leprosy cases in the world each year, must take steps to make the inhabitants of the 850 leprosy colonies across the country join the mainstream. Colonies, experts argued, defeat the purpose of mainstreaming of the people suffering from the disease.