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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

Survey: Stigma as a Barrier to Employment

Employers sympathetic, but reluctant to hire, Indian survey finds.

To what extent is stigma an obstacle preventing people affected by leprosy from finding jobs? Between July and December 2007, Bino Berry, an occupational therapist at The Leprosy Mission Trust Vocational Training Center in Nashik, Maharashtra, conducted a survey of employers to determine their awareness of and attitude toward leprosy.

A questionnaire consisting of 10 multiple choice questions was administered to 200 randomly selected industrial employers in Nashik, and the responses were obtained in face-to-face interviews.

The survey was prompted in part by concerns that employers were ignorant about leprosy and stigmatized those with the disease.

While the majority of those polled knew that leprosy was caused by a bacteria, answers indicated that some believed the disease was hereditary, was highly infectious, that treatment took at least five years and that deformity was the norm in the long run.

Although they were largely sympathetic to the plight of persons affected by leprosy, few employers were prepared to hire them, the survey found (see right).

What these results underline, Berry said, is the importance of having health education programs for both employers and employees, and he noted that the process of collecting the data had in itself served as an education for those polled.

The Nashik Vocational Training Center teaches skills, but are employers prepared to use them?

THE PROBLEM EXPOSED

•Attitude of employers toward people affected by leprosy:
Sympathy: 61%, Sorrow: 14.5%, Fear: 13.5%,
Avoidance: 10.5%

•Would you accept a person affected by leprosy as an employee?:
No: 66.5%, Yes: 30%, Can't say: 3.5%

•Reason for non-acceptance:
Non-cooperation of employees: 37.5%,
Other reasons: 30%, Perception that people
affected by leprosy are inefficient workers: 22%,
Fear of spreading the disease: 10%.