New Delhi: Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has written to the ministries of law, and social justice and empowerment seeking amendments to the over 100 laws that are discriminatory against persons affected by leprosy.
In his letter to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot, Vardhan requested them take initiatives to amend the laws at a time the country is marking 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
"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," Vardhan wrote in his letter to the two ministers.
Vardhan said, "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 -- three Union and 105 State laws." He stated that the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) has achieved enormous success in 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.
Majorly, Leprosy Case Detection Campaign (LCDC) (specific for high endemic districts), Focussed Leprosy Campaign (for hotspots i.e., rural and urban areas), Special plan for case detection in hard-to-reach areas, ASHA-based Surveillance for Leprosy Suspects (ABSULS) have contributed to early case detection, Vardhan said.
In addition, Sparsh Leprosy Awareness Campaign (SLAC) is 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.
"A leprosy affected person after treatment does not transmit the disease agent. Hence, there exists no justification for the continued stigmatisation of the persons affected by leprosy," Vardhan stressed.
Requesting for proactively taking steps to redress this wrong, 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).
He also mentioned that 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.
Further, in his letter to the Chief Ministers of 23 States and UTs, Vardhan requested 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. The Union Health Minister also outlined the discriminatory laws that need to be amended in the states.