232,857 people were newly diagnosed as having leprosy in 2012 in the world.
Take a guess. How many of them are from India?
The answer is 134,752, a little short of 60%. India has the largest number of
leprosy affected (both cured and new cases) in the world.
Southern India hosted large portion of people affected by the disease.
There have been many advocates and leaders who have fought to live a life with dignity in Tamil Nadu, the southern most state of India.
Dr P.K. Gopal is one of them.
Dr Gopal successfully fought against the disease, got cured,
did his Masters Degree in Social Work and started to serve for
his brothers & sisters affected by leprosy to improve their quality of life.
Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation has been a major donor supporting IDEA India, led by Dr Gopal, from 1998 to this day for various activities.
Looking back the 15 plus years of IDEA India’s activities, Dr Gopal says
“Tamil Nadu had the largest number of people affected by leprosy.
Stigma and discrimination was severe.
I started IDEA India in 1996, but when I started IDEA India, I saw the task of eliminating stigma and discrimination toward leprosy close to impossible.
When I started the work there were many people begging for survival.
However, a network of leprosy colonies was there in Tamil Nadu.
All of us have been raising our voices, trying to change the state of living.
I would not say there is no discrimination today in Tamil Nadu. No.
But I can say it is little.
People have started to accept them since they earn.
Today, we can use public transportation, go into public restaurants,
use religious facilities. Even those with disabilities.
Basic human rights? Yes. But these rights were denied of us for long.
Now we know to fight against it and we know the ways for it.
Thanks to IDEA India.
I am also happy to say that there are many boys and girls living in leprosy colonies who marry to those outside leprosy colonies.
Lots of young kids go for higher education.
I believe economic rehabilitation was the key to these changes.
There used to be a time when we could not find a job because of the disease and disabilities caused by it, had no money, could not send the children to school,
and the children with no education and skills in turn cannot find a job.
Vicious circle of poverty which continued for generations.
IDEA India has been supporting those who want to be self-independent a change to start a small business. It can be rearing goats, tailoring…
A Socio Economic Rehabilitation programme which empowered them. Those who were begging gradually stopped it and became owners of different trades. They joined the business community of the society which changed their life scenario.
We learned that people start to respect themselves, to be proud of themselves,
to have dreams and hopes when they know they are not hopeless and helpless.
I am proud to say that through our tireless efforts, we, the people affected by leprosy in Tamil Nadu, have managed to change the image of the disease.
Other states are now looking at Tamil Nadu as a model.
Once conceived as the Mission Impossible,
eliminating stigma attached to leprosy in Tamil Nadu is becoming
the Mission (almost) completed.