New Delhi: Expressing serious concern over the discrimination being meted out to leprosy patients, the Supreme Court on Friday directed the Centre and all states to formulate a comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme which shall cater to all basic facilities and needs of leprosy-affected people and their families.
A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, while passing this order on petitions highlighting the plight of leprosy patients, said the scheme shall be aimed at eliminating the stigma that is associated with persons afflicted with leprosy.
Giving a series of directions, the chief justice who wrote the order, said the Centre may consider framing separate rules for assessing the disability quotient of leprosy-affected people for the purpose of issuing disability certificate in the exercise of the power granted under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
The petitioners had argued that the existing provisions stigmatise and isolate persons affected by leprosy violating their right to live with dignity enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution; they prescribe a differential treatment of persons affected by leprosy.
Taking note of the submissions, the bench said that although leprosy as a disease has been scientifically and medically proven to be curable and manageable with MDT, the fact remains that millions of people and their family members still suffer from leprosy and the social, economic and cultural stigma attached to the said disease. This fact reveals the lack of awareness and the prevailing misguided notions in the society pertaining to leprosy.
Further, the miserable plight of the persons afflicted with leprosy does not end here. It has been highlighted that due to the disability that entails as a result of the disease, the people affected by leprosy suffer additional discrimination in the form of denial of access to health services, education and livelihood options.
At present, majority of the people who are afflicted with leprosy live as a marginalised section in the society deprived of even basic human rights. This has been further brought to the attention of the court that as per the requirements of the World Health Organization (WHO), all countries are required to achieve a prevalence of less than one leprosy case per 10,000 persons.
Although India had declared way back on December 31, 2015, that it has achieved the said goal of elimination of leprosy, the progress reports of National Leprosy Eradication Programme have been reporting prevalence rate in certain states. As per the said reports, out of 642 districts in India, only 543 districts have achieved a prevalence rate of less than one case of leprosy for 10,000 persons.
The bench said awareness should be spread about the free availability of MDT at all government healthcare facilities in the country, the prescribed course for MDT treatment and all other relevant information related to MDT. The content and information contained in the awareness programmes should discontinue to use frightening images of people disabled with leprosy and instead should use positive images of cured persons sharing their experiences.
Other directions are the Union and the states are to ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications including the MDT drugs are available free of cost and do not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres (PHCs) or, as the case may be, public health facilities in the country; all-year awareness campaigns should also be run, by the Union as well as the states, to inform the citizenry that under the NLEP, treatment is provided free of cost to all leprosy cases diagnosed through general health care system, including NGOs.
Awareness campaigns must include information that a person affected by leprosy is not required to be sent to any special clinic or hospital or sanatorium and should not be isolated from the family members or the community.
Further health care to leprosy patients, at both Government as well as private run medical institutions, must be such that medical officials and representatives desist from any discriminatory behaviour while examining and treating them.
Children should not be turned away and attempt should be made to provide them free education; due attention must be paid to ensure that the persons affected with leprosy are issued BPL cards so that they can avail the benefits under AAY scheme and other similar schemes which would enable them to secure their right to food; The Union and the states should endeavour to provide MCR footwear free of cost to all leprosy affected persons.