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Report No. 256

Chapter II

Leprosy and the Status of Persons Affected by Leprosy in India: The Need for change

A. Understanding Leprosy

2.1.1 Leprosy or Hansen's disease is one of the world's oldest diseases. Ancient Hindu scriptures make specific references to Leprosy, while Ayurvedic texts of the 6th Century BC note the symptoms of Leprosy.7 The ancient Manusmriti also discusses Leprosy while laying down the rules and regulations governing marriage.8 However, in spite of its ancient history, Leprosy as a disease is largely misunderstood, in all its aspects including its etiology, causation, means of transmission and its curability.9

7. Navin Chawla, "Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration of the Leprosy Affected in India", available at
accessed on 24th January, 2014.

8. 24th January, 2014.

9. Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, available at
accessed on 24th January, 2014.

2.1.2 The disease of Leprosy is triggered by the causative agent Mycobacterium Leprae, a bacillus which was first discovered by a Norwegian doctor, Gerhard Armauer Hansen in 1873.10 An untreated person suffering from Leprosy can spread the infection through the passage of air.11

According to sources, more than 85% of Persons affected by Leprosy are non-infectious and do not spread Leprosy, while over 99% of the world population has a natural immunity or resistance to Leprosy.12 Persons affected by Leprosy exhibit symptoms of pale and reddish skin, numbness of hands or feet or loss of feeling in a patch of skin.13 The incubation period of Leprosy ranges from five years to as long as twenty years.14

10. Shigeki Sakamoto, "Requests Addressed To The Advisory Committee Stemming From Human Rights Council Resolutions: Elimination Of Discrimination Against Persons Affected By Leprosy And Their Family Members", UN Human Rights Council, Doc. No. A/HRC/AC/3/CRP.2 (31 July, 2009)

11. Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

12. Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9); See also "Leprosy in Our Time", A Report by the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (2013), available at
accessed on 24th January, 2014.

13. Shigeki Sakamoto (n 10).

14. Navin Chawla (n 7); Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

2.1.3 Leprosy has been largely known to be a human disease, in that the human body is the principal reservoir of Mycobacterium Leprae.15 If not treated early, Leprosy can lead to Grade I (i.e. sensory impairment, or muscle weakness without contractures) or Grade II (i.e. visible impairment, muscle atrophy, or bone absorption of shortening or contractures) deformities.16

One of the important factors leading to disabilities in Persons affected by Leprosy is the early neglect in getting a diagnosis, and proper treatment for those who exhibit signs of absence of pain, itching and other such symptoms.17 Neglect over prolonged periods usually leads to the infection getting severe, causing deformity and secondary pyogenic infection causing permanent damage to hands and feet, loss of eyebrows and depressed noses.18 Manifestations of the disease appear to vary according to geographical variations and host responses.19

15. Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

16. Enhanced Global Strategy for Further Reducing the Disease Burden Due to Leprosy, Updated Operational Guidelines, WHO (2011-2015), available at
accessed on 24th January, 2014; See also Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

17 Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

18 Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

19 Leprosy: The Facts, Myth and Treatment of Disease (n 9).

2.1.4 The disease of Leprosy has two main varieties - lepromatous and non-lepromatous.20 The persons falling under the lepromatous variety, comprise about 15-20% of Persons affected by Leprosy.21

The lepromatous variety is a severe form of Leprosy that causes the easy spread of infection when left untreated or inadequately treated.22 Up to 80-85% of all cases of Leprosy are of the non-lepromatous or non-severe variety, where the infection is feeble, and does not spread easily to others.23 In India the vast majority of Persons affected by Leprosy, are of the non-lepromatous variety.24 A majority of Leprosy-affected beggars also fall within this category.25

20. Navin Chawla (n 7).

21. Navin Chawla (n 7).

22. Navin Chawla (n 7).

23. Navin Chawla (n 7).

24. Navin Chawla (n 7).

25. Navin Chawla (n 7).

Eliminating Discrimination against Persons affected by Leprosy Back

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