By Fabiana Frayssinet
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Mar 15 2019 – “More than 50 countries in the world have discriminatory laws against people affected by Hansen’s disease. There is also a lot of discrimination in the public administration…and in society,” Alice Cruz, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, said in this interview with IPS (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
The Portuguese-born expert is one of the special participants in the First Latin American and Caribbean Assembly of Organisations of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease – another name for leprosy – taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Mar. 12-14.
Among the many examples of violations of the rights of those affected by the disease, Cruz cited the case of children who are expelled from school.
“People lose their jobs, there is discrimination in the community, they aren’t allowed to enter places of worship, etc, and there is discrimination in the family too,” added the Special Rapporteur in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Cruz pointed out that in 2010, the United Nations adopted “a human rights instrument to guarantee the rights of people affected by Hansen’s disease.”
According to this document, entitled “Draft principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members”, “States should enforce this instrument which covers all areas of affected persons and protects them from the violations mentioned,” she stressed.
This is the first time that a meeting has been held in Latin America dedicated to people affected by a disease that the World Health Organisation defines as infectious and chronic, caused by the bacillus Mycobacterium leprae and which mainly damages the skin, peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes.
Brazil, the host country, accounts for 95 percent of all cases in the Americas, with between 25,000 and 30,000 new diagnoses per year.
The regional meeting is an initiative of the Brazilian Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hanseniasis and the Colombian Federation of Organisations of People Affected by Hanseniasis, with support from Brazil’s Health Ministry and the independent Nippon Foundation.
The region’s findings, together with the ones that emerged from similar assemblies in Asia and Africa, will be incorporated into the proposals for the World Congress on Leprosy, to be held in the Philippines in September.