Leprosy sufferers and world health officials launched a second global appeal Monday to end discrimination of those afflicted with the disease.
The World Health Organization has said about 100 million people with leprosy worldwide, as well as their families, continue to face ostracism and social stigmatization.
"We want the whole world to know that leprosy is a curable disease, that medicine is free all over the world. Therefore, there should be no discrimination," Yohei Sasakawa, WHO goodwill ambassador for elimination of leprosy, told a press conference in Manila to launch the "Global Appeal 2007."
Sasakawa said he has asked the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to pass a resolution for each national government to issue guidelines to eliminate discrimination. He said he is also working with leprosy sufferers, NGOs and governments to remove the disease's stigma at the grass-roots level.
Leprosy ceased to be a public health problem after a cure was made available in the 1980s. Since 1985, multi-drug therapy has treated more than 15 million leprosy sufferers, and prevented disability in 4 million people, WHO said.
Despite this, however, social stigma continues because of the physical deformities suffered by those with the disease.
In the Western Pacific region, only the Philippines and China have reported more than 1,000 new cases yearly. In 2005, 3,130 cases were detected in the Philippines, and 1,658 cases in China. Worldwide, India has the highest number of new cases, with about 250,000 cases detected yearly.
Experts have found a correlation between poverty and the incidence of leprosy, said Vijaykumar Pannikar, WHO team leader of the Global Leprosy Program.
In some countries like India, leprosy sufferers are discriminated against under the law. For example, a woman with leprosy can be divorced by her husband in India.
Pannikar said the campaign aims to sensitize people and governments to the need to give leprosy sufferers the same opportunities as anyone else.
"Denying the inherent human rights of anyone on the basis of disease is indefensible. Discrimination can never be justified," a campaign statement said.