NEW YORK – The first United Nations panel discussion on leprosy and those with unrelated disabilities Wednesday pressed for solidarity with sufferers and their greater inclusion in society.
Those with the disease, which is now curable, have long been ostracized, shunned and marginalized, even from other people who are disabled, said organizers of a side event called Voices of People Affected by Leprosy.
“We have to bridge the gap between the two communities of people affected by leprosy and people otherwise disabled,” said Javed Abidi, chairperson of Disabled People’s International.
“Other people like me are trying . . . to bridge that gap and to ensure that at least among the disabled people, there should not be any discrimination and these two groups have to be brought together so we can inspire each other and give each other confidence,” Abidi said.
Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of the philanthropic Nippon Foundation, said, “I truly hope that this event will offer new opportunities for people with disabilities and people affected by leprosy to form cooperative relationships and new possibilities where together we may shorten the long road ahead to realizing an inclusive society.”
Sasakawa, Japan’s goodwill ambassador for the human rights for people affected by leprosy, said gradual improvements in policy have been observed in other countries following a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted in 2010 with efforts led by Japan calling for elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.
P.K. Gopal, president of IDEA India, who was eventually cured of leprosy after contracting it at the age of 12, stressed how someone with polio, for example, faces a “physical barrier” but does not face the risk of abandonment by their families or communities.
“Because of the fear of leprosy, the other disabled groups so far do not want to accommodate the leprosy-affected people in their group,” he noted, adding that he aims to help change that mindset. “We just are beginning. Still we have to go a long way to remove the stigma and discrimination and make people to accept us like any other normal people.”
The panel discussion was held as part of the annual conference of states parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.