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Don’t use the word ‘leper’ urges WHO

28 January 2009

by Bill Bowder

Splash of colour: an Indian man affected by leprosy finishes a painting WERNER DORNIK

Splash of colour: an Indian man affected by leprosy finishes a painting WERNER DORNIK

THE British Government is in breach of a human-rights charter on leprosy which it signed last year, the World Health Organisation’s Ambas­sador for the Elimination of Leprosy, Yohei Sasakawa, said this week.

He was launching the fourth annual global appeal to end prejudice against the disease, which affects up to 100 million people worldwide. The Home Office, however, has denied that it has turned anyone away from entering the UK because of leprosy.

“The Home Office has never refused an application for a work permit or visa on the basis of someone having or having had leprosy,” a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Last year, the UK and 58 other countries passed unanimously a res­olution (number 8/13) in the United Nations Human Rights Council to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy, Mr Sasakawa told representatives from a number of faiths and various countries, who were meeting in Church House, Westminster, on Monday.

He said, however: “Countries including the United States and the United Kingdom have regulations restricting the issue of work or residence permits to people with leprosy,” which is in contravention

of the resolution. He noted that Chinese officials, who had intended to ban people with leprosy from attending the Olympic Games, had reversed their decision under pressure.

The word “leper” “is an entirely damaging term and sticks for life, even after a person has been cured. People affected by leprosy have demanded that the term ‘leper’ is not used.” But the word continued to appear in the media. Since the 1980s, 16 million people had been cured.

In a ceremony in Church House, two former sufferers from leprosy, Kofi Nyarko, who teaches children with special needs in Ghana, and Farida, who takes care of her grandmother in Indonesia, read out the appeal to understand the facts about leprosy, and to affirm “the right of every human being to live with dignity”.

Speakers who backed the appeal included Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain; the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall; the Revd Edward Lewis, Chief Executive of the Hospital Chaplaincies Council; Mgr Brian Udaigwe, who was present on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican; and Dr Manoj Kurian, on behalf of the World Council of Churches.

Dr Bayan Alaraji spoke on behalf of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Other Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist speakers also expressed their support for the appeal.

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