Saturday, 25 January 2014

World Leprosy Day 2014 - shining a light on the ‘hidden’ disease

A young woman affected by leprosy in Myanmar (Burma) is benefiting from a new mobile prostheses clinic.
Credit: Leprosy Mission

This Sunday, 26 January, is World Leprosy Day 2014. Few people might take notice; few might even know that leprosy still exits today. But it does.
For me, World Leprosy Day always has a special resonance because when I was very young – just after high school – I worked in a leprosy centre for a few months. It was in Polambakkam in beautiful Tamil Nadu in the south of India.  At the time, the multidrug therapy hadn’t been developed yet and the stigma of the disease was so strong that very few Indian medics wanted to work there, so volunteers like me were brought in to help clean infected wounds and bandage damaged limbs.
Leprosy has now been curable for the past 25 years or so, but is still a global problem, affecting more than 15 million people worldwide  (including 100 in the UK), and each year, at least a quarter of a million new cases are detected - that is almost one person diagnosed every two minutes (World Health Organization). Over half of all newly-reported cases occur in India. And the stigma is still as damaging as it was when I was young.
On World Leprosy Day, the Leprosy Mission England and Wales, an international organization working to eradicate the causes and consequences of the disease, wants to “shine a light on this hidden disease.” Here is their message:
Did you know there are still leprosy colonies in the world today where people are ‘sent’ or ‘seek refuge’?  There are 850 in India.
Did you know that stigma surrounding leprosy in many parts of the world today is akin to what it was during Biblical times?  Even beggars begging for their own survival will often shun a leprosy-affected person.
Did you know that leprosy is completely curable with a simple combination of antibiotics?  Yet 85 per cent of people in Delhi, India - still believe there is no cure.
We’re confident that leprosy rates would be slashed across the world today were it not still shrouded in age-old stigma.  Three million people would not be living with irreversible disabilities as a result of late treatment of the disease.
What other disease sees someone outcast from their family, sacked from their job, thrown off public transport and pushed to the very fringes of society?
The tragedy is when leprosy is ‘hidden’. It damages and disables, slowly destroying each aspect of a person’s life.  If it wasn’t for stigma and misunderstandings surrounding leprosy then people would seek treatment and all healthcare professionals would recognise its symptoms.
Leprosy is a disease.  Those affected deserve dignity not discrimination. Please spread the word.
For more information, click here.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill is Back - Stop It!

Credit: Amnesty International

‘Our neighbours said to me, “Why are you still alive?”’ – Frank, Kampala

Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill is back. Passed by Parliament at the end of last year, it is now with the President for approval or dismissal by the end of January. The Bill proposes to sentence anyone identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or intersex - LGBTI - in Uganda to life in prison. It will have terrible wide-ranging repercussions and punish activists, health workers and lawyers for 'promoting' homosexuality. Amnesty International is asking people to urge the President to stop it.

It’s already illegal to be gay in Uganda, with a lengthy prison sentence for anyone found to have had same-sex relations. But this new Bill goes even further, and anyone identified as LGBTI will be imprisoned for life.
This month marks three years since prominent gay rights activist David Kato - who campaigned against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it first appeared before Parliament in 2009 - was murdered in his home. His murder followed a hate campaign in the national press which called for Kato and others on a ‘gay list’ to be hanged.
Sadly, in the years since Kato’s murder, attacks have increased and rights for LGBTI individuals rolled back even further – led by hateful tirades in the media, and vicious campaigns by law-makers keen to legitimise discrimination.
It is impossible to assist gay rights activists with court cases without receiving abuse and assaults – from neighbours and passers-by, to government officials and the police.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only legitimises but actively encourages such activity.
What’s more, the Bill will extend punishments to anyone found to be 'promoting homosexuality'. If it becomes law, access to basic legal and health rights will be denied to a whole section of Uganda’s society.
Health workers will be barred from conducting HIV tests or advising LGBTI patients; lawyers prevented from advising LGBTI clients; activists prevented from defending LGBTI rights.
In fact, if you know of someone working with LGBTI individuals and you fail to report that activity within 24 hours, you too will be prosecuted.
Please tell the President that love is a human right and urge him to veto the bill: take part of  Amnesty International action here.