The Chinese government is to be commended for overturning its ban on people with leprosy attending the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. But the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee also deserves a mention. Had it not published an advisory for foreigners stating that persons with certain infectious diseases, including leprosy, were barred from entering the country, few people would have known such a regulation existed in the first place.
In fact, China is not alone in having such policies. Shortly after the advisory appeared, it was reported that the United Arab Emirates was to include leprosy among the medical fitness tests required of foreigners intending to live, study or work in the UAE for not less than six months.
This led us to ask: just how many other countries have visa or immigration rules that make mention of leprosy? Research conducted over the Internet by the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation has found to date that over a dozen countries cite leprosy as a reason for refusing entry or as grounds for deportation.
In addition to China and the UAE, they are, in alphabetical order: Barbados, Hungary, Iraq, Namibia, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, South Africa, and the U.K. and the U.S.
To look in detail at one example, persons planning to reside in Hungary for more than 90 days must submit an official medical certificate showing that the foreigner does not suffer from a disease endangering public health, is not contagious and is not a carrier of such pathogens. Listed as diseases and bacterium carrier conditions endangering public health are TB, HIV, leprosy, lues (syphilis), and typhoid or paratyphoid.
Leprosy today is a completely curable disease. Within days of the first round of multidrug therapy, a person infected with Mycobacterium leprae can no longer pass the disease to anyone else.
No doubt these immigration policies were drawn up with the best of intentions, to protect the public from what was regarded at the time as a feared disease. Times have changed, however, and immigration policies must change with them.