In India, NGOs struggle to fight an 'eliminated' disease

By Alys Francis 11 May 2015

Women’s ward at a leper colony in India. The World Health Organization declared leprosy eliminated as a public health problem in the country in 2005. Photo by: Erin Collins / CC BY-ND

In early April, the Law Commission of India submitted a draft law to stamp out discrimination against people afflicted with leprosy.

Indeed, nearly a decade after leprosy was “eliminated” in the country, there remain some laws that allow being afflicted with the infectious disease as grounds for divorce, firing and even refusing someone a train seat.

The World Health Organization defines elimination as having less than 1 new case per 10,000 people. In 2005, new cases in India plummeted from a high 57.6 in 1983 to just 0.95 in 2005. But this doesn’t mean the disease has been completely eradicated; more than 50 percent of the world’s new leprosy cases each year come from India.

So while nongovernmental organizations in the country welcome the draft law, they remain concerned that last-mile efforts to tackle the disease are being derailed. Donor funds are sliding, government money is caught in red tape, and NGOs are being forced to scale down their programs, even as cases remain underreported, with many patients likely slipping through the cracks.

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About the author

Alys Francis

Alys Francis is a freelance journalist covering development and other news in South Asia for international media outlets. Based in India, she travels widely around the region and has covered major events, including national elections in India and Nepal. She is interested in how technology is aiding development and rapidly altering societies.

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