The Supreme Court is seeking answers from the Centre about the treatment of leprosy patients and India’s progress against the disease.
The SC, responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP), has directed the Centre to enact a central law barring discrimination against leprosy patients. It is also seeking an update on repeated pledges to eradicate the disease.
The Centre has pledged to eradicate leprosy from India a number of times in recent years. This aim was stated by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the 2017 Budget and reaffirmed by Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda earlier this year. He pledged that India would be leprosy-free by next year.
“The Centre has pledged to eradicate leprosy from India a number of times in recent years”
India has made substantial progress against leprosy in recent years, achieving elimination of the disease in 2005. This is defined as reducing the prevalence of disease to less than one case per 10,000 persons. However, the disease continues to pose a public health challenge.
India currently accounts for around sixty percent of the world’s new leprosy infections, registering 135,485 confirmed cases in 2016. Prevalence of the disease remains low, numbering at around 0.66 cases per 10,000 persons in 2016. However, leprosy’s continued presence in India carries the potential threat of resurgence. Meanwhile, the nation’s leprosy patients face a number of difficulties owing to prejudice and discrimination. Their plight is what the Supreme Court has drawn attention to.
A plethora of archaic laws remain in place at the central and state levels. These pieces of legislation allow for discrimination, isolation, and marginalisation of leprosy patients. As many as 119 such laws remain in place across India.
“A plethora of archaic laws remain in place at the central and state levels. These pieces of legislation allow for the discrimination, isolation, and marginalisation of leprosy patients.”
The Centre has been given four weeks to respond to the VCLP’s PIL and six weeks for the framing of a law barring the discrimination. The VCLP offered suggestions in their suit relative to “awareness, sensitisation and dissemination of action taken, non-discrimination, pensionary benefits for persons affected by leprosy, health care and rehabilitation, housing assistance, education, employment, livelihood, welfare and language and expression”.
Leprosy has been eliminated in India for well in excess of a decade. Yet eradication has yet to occur. The isolation of those with leprosy can present as a barrier to care. As such, taking resolute steps to end discrimination against leprosy patients as directed by the SC may move the Centre forward in its aims to rid India of leprosy for good.