India: Leprosy charities protest over notice on Delhi Metro

A notice banning people with a range of illnesses including leprosy from using the Delhi metro has enraged a charity that has been fighting to stop discrimination against people affected by the disease. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation's prominent 'health advisory' sign states people who are mentally disturbed and suffer from diseases such as chicken pox and tuberculosis 'shall not travel on the metro'.

A footnote adds: 'Leprosy patients carrying certificate from a Registered Medical practitioner certifying to be non-infective may travel in the Delhi Metro'.

UK- based The Leprosy Mission England and Wales (TLMEW) along with its partner organisation The Leprosy Mission Trust of India has spent decades hammering home the message that the disease is not easily transmitted and the average healthy human has natural immunity. The charity fears the notification will lead to people with visible signs of deformities, the vast majority of whom will have been treated and cured, would be harassed and humiliated unnecessarily.

Sian Arulanantham, Head of Programmes for TLMEW said the message board at the train station had set back decades of work done by non-governmental organisations to raise awareness that leprosy cannot be transmitted by touch.

"The message is blatant discrimination of people affected by leprosy," she said. "It is an easily curable disease with people who start medication almost immediately ceasing to be infectious. I don't see any other disease where they require people who have been cured to carry proof of their health status. I'm sure this will lead to further discrimination."

"The Indian Government recently repealed legislation that discriminates against people affected by leprosy because they recognised it was unfair and unnecessary. Then for the Delhi Metro to publicly state that anyone who has had leprosy should carry a certificate to prove they are not contagious makes no sense at all.

"We would urge the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation to urgently consider removing the message from their board."

Leprosy is a mildly infection disease associated with poverty and poor hygiene. It is easily cured with multidrug therapy, a combination of three antibiotics Clofazimine, dapsone and rifampicin.

The World Health Organisation states: 'Leprosy is caused by a slow-growing bacillus, Mycobacterium leprae. It is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth of untreated patients with severe disease, but is not highly infectious."

If left untreated, the disease can cause nerve damage, leading to muscle weakness and atrophy, and permanent disabilities.

People with leprosy often hide their disease for fear of suffering discrimination and being ostracised by their communities. Late treatment of leprosy can lead to permanent disabilities. Currently some three million people live with disabilities associated with late treatment of leprosy.

Mrs Arulanantham added: "Our fear is that this kind of negative stereotyping will stop more people who have the disease from seeking treatment. We cannot stress enough the need for immediate treatment."

WHO stats show India had the highest number of newly diagnosed cases in 2014 - 125,785 of the 213,899 cases detected globally.

Tags: contagious, DelhiMetro, Leprosy, Leprosy Mission

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