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Global petition to UN against leprosy discrimination launched

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand can help lead the fight against discriminatory laws in leprosy, just as it has shown the world how to fight Covid-19 discrimination with kindness.

Gillian Whitley, executive director of the Leprosy Mission New Zealand, says New Zealand is the first of 31 countries around the world to launch a global petition calling for an end to 130 discriminatory laws against the human rights of people affected by leprosy.

We are all looking forward to the removal of the restrictions we are currently under with the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Imagine living in a world where Covid-19 curable and transmission could be stopped and yet the restrictions still remained. This is the reality for people affected by leprosy. They have been waiting for the removal of discriminatory leprosy laws for decades.

Leprosy one of the world’s oldest disease still has many misconceptions- that it is fatal; that it is highly infectious - and over time those perceptions gave rise to stigma, discrimination and these laws. In fact leprosy isn’t fatal, it only mildly infectious (it usually takes prolonged exposure) and since the 1980s it can be cured with a multi-drug therapy taken as a simple pills. 95% of the world is naturally immune and in New Zealand it is not a public health issue. For people affected by leprosy discriminatory laws are in many cases, just as damaging as or even worse than the disease itself. Leprosy can be grounds to be permanently expelled from school, fired from your job, separated from your children, removed from your home, segregated from society and detained in an asylum. "One example is that children of a parent or parents with leprosy are expelled from school. Those children, when they are grown and have children of their own, then find their children are also excluded from school. So it is inter-generational; they carry a deep shame even after they are cured."

Some of these laws around the world enshrine that stigma and discrimination in law - and that is what this petition is about and the Leprosy Mission New Zealand is calling for people to sign it before it is presented to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in September.

In New Zealand and around the world we rely on people getting tested for Covid-19 so that we can trace and beat outbreaks of the virus. Leprosy is kept alive in some of the poorest parts of the world because of the discriminatory laws, the restrictions are seen as worse than the disease itself. People with symptoms see what has happened to others who are diagnosed with leprosy and elect not to go to the doctor to get tested. The petition is aimed at ridding the world of these outdated and discriminatory leprosy laws - and New Zealand, with its experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, can help lead the way against such discrimination.

"We saw a bit of that stigma ourselves when the lockdowns were in force last year," she says. "There were reports then that some people who contracted Covid-19 were being subject to some stigmatisation. I found that very sad - and we have learned that it need not have happened.

"In fact, what happened here was that we learned the power of kindness and unity. We learned about the virus and what to do and what not to do - and what grew out of that was our kindness to each other.

To sign the petition to end the discriminatory laws against people affected by leprosy see here. (

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