Spread awareness on curability of leprosy, end discrimination: SC

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered that awareness be spread about the free treatment available to cure leprosy and directed the central and state governments to formulate rehabilitation schemes for those suffering from the disease.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud issued a slew of directions to the Centre and the states and asked them to ensure proper treatment of leprosy patients and end discrimination against them.

The bench also said that the stigma against leprosy patients must end.

It directed that a “massive” awareness campaign be carried out by the government on curability of leprosy, adding that patients “should not be isolated” by the family or community.

“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. The campaigns should inform that a person affected with leprosy can lead a normal married life, can have children, can take part in social events and go to work or school as normal. Acceptability of leprosy patients in the society would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the disease,” read the judgement.

The bench said awareness should be spread about the free availability at all government health care facilities in the country and there should be information about people who were cured of leprosy.

All-year awareness campaigns should also be run to inform the people that under the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP), treatment was provided free of cost to all leprosy cases, said the court.

Drugs for the management of leprosy and its complications should not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres or public health facilities in the country.

The court wanted that both private and government aided schools should not discriminate against children hailing from leprosy affected families.

The court directed that leprosy patients should be given Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards so they can benefit from the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme, which provides highly subsidised food to the poorest families.

It told the Centre and states to undertake periodical national surveys for determining the prevalence rate of leprosy.

The judgement came on a PIL filed by advocate Pankaj Sinha, who had alleged that governments have failed to eliminate the disease despite medical treatment available since 1981.

He claimed that leprosy affects over 1.25 lakh people annually in the country and sought a direction to the governments that leprosy drugs be made available at primary health centres in the country.

Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre to consider framing a law to repeal all laws that discriminate against those suffering from leprosy and granted six weeks to the government for taking a decision on the issue.