Harsh Vardhan writes to ministers, wants change in laws against Leprosy patients
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan has written to ministers of Law and Justice, and Social Justice and Empowerment for amending discriminatory laws against people affected with Leprosy.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by mycobacterium leprae. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes.
The health minister on Tuesday wrote to the Union minister of Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the Union minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawarchand Gehlot, seeking amendment of the existing 108 discriminatory laws against people affected by leprosy.
“It will be a befitting tribute to the Father of the Nation on his 150th Birth Anniversary if we can expedite the process and introduction of the elimination of discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy (EDPAL) Bill, which was drafted by the Law Commission of India and annexed in its 256th Report,” wrote the health minister in his letter to the two Union ministers.
“Even though the disease is now fully curable, it is disturbing to learn that there still exist 108 discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy including 3 Union and 105 State laws,” he further wrote.
The National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) has to a large extent achieved leprosy control, particularly in the past four decades.
In addition to the routine activities, more than a dozen innovations were introduced from 2016 onwards in a phased manner to address the issues being faced by the programme.
The conspicuous ones include Leprosy Case Detection Campaign that was specifically designed for the high endemic districts, Focussed Leprosy Campaign for the hot spots in both rural and urban areas, special plan for case detection in hard to reach areas, and ASHA based surveillance for the leprosy suspects have contributed to early case detection.
In addition, Sparsh Leprosy Awareness Campaign has been implemented to reduce stigma against persons affected by leprosy in the community.
“These innovations have given the much needed impetus to the programme. Moreover, leprosy has become fully curable by Multi–Drug Therapy (MDT). This therapy is available free of cost at all the government health care facilities in the country,” he wrote.
A leprosy affected person after treatment does not transmit the disease agent. Hence, the health minister feels no justification exists for the continued stigmatization of people affected by leprosy.
Asking for proactive steps to change things for the affected people, Harsh Vardhan said that India is committed to justice and equality of all individuals including persons with disabilities as per the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The target of Global Leprosy Strategy, 2016 – 2020 is to reduce the number of countries with laws allowing discrimination on the ground of leprosy to zero.
The health minister also wrote a letter to the state chief ministers, asking them to look into the matter and direct all the departments/officers concerned to work for the amendments of the existing discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy.