Health activists are calling for an end to the use of the word leper, saying the language frequently used by politicians and others during the pandemic has left people with leprosy even more marginalized.
The metaphor of the socially marginalized “leper” has been used frequently, either in media reports on stigma against early Covid-19 patients or by politicians in Italy and Brazil complaining of being seen as “leper colonies”. Activists now want to end the use of what they call the “L word.”
“This kind of language perpetuates a mentality against people who still suffer,” said Mathias Duck, global advocacy manager for The Leprosy Mission, a British charity.
“Affected people were already marginalized before the pandemic, and the pandemic has pushed leprosy even lower on the priority list.”
According to a UN report presented to his human rights council last week, people affected by leprosy have lost access to treatment, their supply of medicines has been interrupted, their work has been cut off and they have died in large numbers from Covid- 19.
A 2019 UN report said stigmatization of leprosyDespite being a curable condition, it has pushed many suffering from the disease into vulnerable positions where they could not access regular work or medical care and were even being banished from their communities.
“People affected by leprosy have been denied tests, treatment and vaccines for Covid. We insist on washing hands and masks, but these communities did not have access to that or basic food due to the closures, ”Duck said.
Duck, who cured himself of leprosy, said few people realized how many people still have the disease when they use the term “lepers” in a derogatory way.
Despite being associated with medieval times, leprosy is still found throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than 200,000 cases were found in 161 countries in 2019.
“What most people affected by leprosy want is to be called by their name, not to be branded by their condition,” Duck said.
The Leprosy Mission has been trying mention the use of the word “leper” as short for outcasts, which has increased during the pandemic, and similar debates are taking place in other parts of the world.
Last month in the Philippines, there was a dispute over the use of the floor in a supreme court case.
Fortunately, with multidrug therapy, leprosy is curable. But what is difficult to cure is the stigma associated with the disease. Stigma affects the centrality of a person with or affected by leprosy, ”said the Coalition of Leprosy Defenders in the Philippines in a letter published in May.
“Please, let’s stop using ‘leper’ as a negative metaphor for being an outcast, isolated or doomed, which restores the stigma we’ve been trying to erase.”
The bacteria that cause leprosy are spread through droplets but multiply slowly, which means that it can take years for a person to experience symptoms. Serious disabilities can be avoided if they are diagnosed and treated quickly, but many of the programs that do this have suffered during the pandemic, especially in countries where health systems have been overwhelmed by Covid cases.
Alice Cruz, the UN special rapporteur for people affected by leprosy, told the human rights council last week that 10 countries had suffered shortages of medicines used to treat leprosy in 2020. She said there were 50% fewer cases reported diagnosed, which is feared to reduce the number of workers reaching the communities. Cruz said that people affected by leprosy were often “invisible and forgotten.”
“There is no better reconstruction if states do not place at the center of recovery efforts those who have been systematically left behind,” he added.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism