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Periodic Surveys, Free Drugs, Awareness Campaigns, Elimination Of Discrimination: Here Are The SC Directions For Welfare Of Leprosy Patients [Read Judgment]

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions for treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by leprosy, while also ensuring that the discrimination against them and their family members is eliminated.

The directions were issued by a Bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice  DY Chandrachud.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by one Pankaj Sinha, seeking issuance of directions to the Centre and the State to not just conduct periodic national surveys for determining new cases and detection rate of leprosy, but also to disclose the results of the National Sample Survey on Leprosy conducted in 2010-2011.

The petition had further demanded regular and sustainable massive awareness campaigns for the general public to dispel fears associated with leprosy, and support and encourage the people afflicted by the disease to lead a life of equality and dignity.

Furthermore, it had prayed that Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) drugs and other drugs for management of leprosy are made available free of cost and do not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in the country. Besides, among other things, it had demanded that all government and private hospitals and health care institutions throughout the country, as well as educational institutions should be directed to ensure that people with leprosy are not discriminated against.

During the pendency of this petition, another petition for relief and rehabilitation for those affected by leprosy was filed by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Taking note of the hearings on this petition as well as the 256th report of the Law Commission of India on the subject, the Court then issued the following directions:

Periodic national surveys

The Union and the States are to undertake periodical national surveys for determining the prevalence rate and new cases detection rate of leprosy and, at the same time, publish and bring the reports of the National Sample Survey of Leprosy conducted in 2010-11 and subsequent thereto into the public domain. That apart, the activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) must be given wide publicity;

Awareness campaigns on leprosy day

On leprosy day which is internationally observed every year on the last Sunday of January, the Union of India along with all State Governments should organize massive awareness campaigns to increase public awareness about the signs and symptoms of leprosy and the fact that it is perfectly curable by the Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT). Awareness should also be spread about the free availability of MDT at all government healthcare facilities in the country, the prescribed course for MDT treatment and all other relevant information related to MDT. The content and information contained in the awareness programmes should discontinue to use frightening images of people disabled with leprosy and instead use positive images of cured persons sharing their experiences of being cured of leprosy;

Drugs for leprosy should be available free of cost

The Union and the States are to ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications including the MDT drugs are available free of cost and do not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres (PHCs) or, as the case may be, public health facilities in the country;

Year round awareness campaigns

  • All-year awareness campaigns should also be run, by the Union as well as the States, to inform the citizenry that under the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP), treatment is provided free of cost to all leprosy cases diagnosed through general health care system including NGOs;
  • The Union and the States must organize seminars at all levels which serve as platforms to hear the views and experiences directly from the former patients and their families as well as doctors, social workers, experts, NGOs and Government officials;
  • The 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 awareness campaigns should also 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;

No discrimination in health care

  • Healthcare to leprosy patients, at both Government as well as private run medical institutions, must be such that medical officials and representatives desist from any discriminatory behaviour while examining and treating leprosy patients. Treatment of leprosy should be integrated into general health care which will usher in a no-isolation method in general wards and OPD services. In particular, it must be ensured that there is no discrimination against women suffering from leprosy and they are given equal and adequate opportunities for treatment in any hospital of their choice. To this effect, proactive measures must be taken for sensitization of hospital personnel;
  • Patients affected with leprosy, for whom partial deformity can be corrected by surgery, should be advised and provided adequate facility and opportunity to undergo such surgeries;

Leprosy education

  • The possibility of including leprosy education in school curricula so as to give correct information about leprosy and leprosy patients and prevent discrimination against them should be explored;
  • The Union and the State Governments must ensure that both private and public schools do not discriminate against children hailing from leprosy-affected families. Such children should not be turned away and attempt should be made to provide them free education;

Issuance of BPL cards to leprosy patients

Due attention must be paid to ensure that the persons affected with leprosy are issued BPL cards so that they can avail the benefits under AAY scheme and other similar schemes which would enable them to secure their right to food;

MCR footwear free of cost

The Union and the States should endeavour to provide MCR footwear free of cost to all leprosy affected persons in the country;

Provision of at least monthly minimum assistance 

The States together with the Union of India should consider formulating and implementing a scheme for providing at least a minimum assistance, preferably on a monthly basis, to all leprosy affected persons for rehabilitation;

Comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme

The Union and the State Governments must pro-actively plan and formulate a comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme which shall cater to all basic facilities and needs of the leprosy-affected persons and their families. The scheme shall be aimed at eliminating the stigma that is associated with persons afflicted with leprosy.

Legislative change for assessing disability quotient of leprosy patients

The Union Government may consider framing separate rules for assessing the disability quotient of leprosy affected persons for the purpose of issuing disability certificate in exercise of the power granted under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (No. 49 of 2016).

Read the Judgment Here

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