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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GLOBAL APPEAL 2013: Laws in the Spotlight

The 8th Global Appeal takes aim at outdated legislation on leprosy.

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Around 200 people gathered at the Law Society in London for the launch of Global Appeal 2013.

Although leprosy is now curable and there are no medical reasons for isolating those who suffer from the disease, there are still laws in existence that discriminate on the basis of leprosy.

Global Appeal 2013 shines a light on this issue. Launched at the Law Society in London on January 24, this is the eighth in a series of annual appeals initiated in 2006 by Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy. It is also the third appeal to have been launched in London, following those supported by human rights-oriented NGOs (2008) and by religious leaders (2009).

Laws that remain help to fan the flames of prejudice and discrimination.

Endorsed by the International Bar Association (IBA) and 46 member associations from 41 countries and regions, this year's appeal targets laws and regulations in different countries - such as India, where leprosy is considered grounds for divorce, or the United States, where "leprosy, infectious" remains on a list of diseases of public health significance and can be a reason for refusing a visa.*

"It may be that these laws are not deliberately kept up, but have remained on the statute book, largely forgotten," Sasakawa said. "But while they remain, they help to fan the flames of prejudice and discrimination."

Some 200 people attended the ceremony and heard from Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the co-chair of the IBA's Human Rights Institute, who gave the keynote address, as well as Akira Kawamura, the IBA's immediate past president.

Baroness Kennedy said national governments have a responsibility to educate citizens against outdated misconceptions relating to leprosy as an incurable and highly contagious disease. "Pivotal to this mission is the repeal of discriminatory legislation; governments have a duty to lead by example," she said.

Kawamura commented: "All of us here must raise awareness about the harm caused by stigmatizing people simply because they are unwell, and we must lobby our lawmakers in all of our countries to overturn antiquated, biased legislation."

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A PDF of Global Appeal 2013 can be downloaded from The Nippon Foundation website.

CALL FOR ACTION

Representing people affected by leprosy were the vice chairman and chairman of the National Forum India (NFI), Guntreddy Venugopal and Vagavathali Narsappa, who spoke of their experiences of the disease and called for action against discriminatory laws.

"We are ambitious and determined to improve the quality of lives of leprosy-affected people in India and enable them to live dignified lives without stigma and discrimination," said Venugopal. "Our ultimate aim…is a world with no leprosy and no discrimination against people affected by leprosy," said Narsappa.

For the NFI chairman, addressing the ceremony was a personal landmark in the fight for dignity and recognition. He later said: "I do not have the words to express how privileged and proud I felt to represent my country at the Law Society as a grassroots activist and as a person affected by leprosy."

FOOTNOTE

* Some countries are reviewing their policies. Last year, the UK Border Agency amended its policy advice to make it clear that having leprosy is not grounds alone for refusing entry into the United Kingdom.