The Forgotten

People affected by leprosy in Nepal still suffer from stigma and discrimination, in addition to the long-term disabilities and other health affects resulting from leprosy; they continue to be shunned and even forgotten by the rest of the society, due to the legacy of policies of the past, which ostracised hospitals and communities because of the fear of contagion.

Nepal’s predominantly Hindu culture means that leprosy, also called “Hansen’s disease,” a chronic disease caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacterium, is considered by many communities to be a punishment for sins committed in former lives. Although prevalence of leprosy in Nepal fell to below 1 in 10,000 people in October 2009, meaning leprosy is no longer considered a “public health problem,” according to a survey conducted at the end of the 2013/2014 fiscal year, 2,271 people remained under treatment for leprosy, or a registered prevalence rate of 0.83 in 10,000 people.

New cases of leprosy continue to occur disproportionally in the South East Asian Region (SEAR), which includes Nepal, with the region carrying 72% of the global leprosy burden; 2010 data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that more than 97% of the more than 228,000 new cases that year were found in only 17 countries. According to a recent study by the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP), Nepal is one of several countries with laws in place which discriminate against people affected by leprosy.

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