A few weeks ago I cringed when I first heard the words ‘Leicester leper’ used in a news report. However, I was very pleased to see that the National Director of The Leprosy Mission, was swift to respond and has written to UK national newspaper editors and the BBC in a bid to stop them from using derogatory language to people affected by a 21st Century disease.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 we have witnessed a proliferation of the word ‘leper’ used in the media in connection with the virus. Following the government imposing a lockdown on Leicester, the press was littered with the phrase ‘Leicester leper’, the unfortunate alliteration tragically bolstering a catchy headline and soundbite.
National Director, Peter Waddup, described the word 'leper' as outdated, derogatory and stigmatising to the millions of people today affected by leprosy globally.
He said: “It is associated with fear and being an outcast. It reduces a person to merely a disease and increases the stigma around leprosy, something we work tirelessly to counter.
“I do obviously realise the media’s intention isn't to stigmatise people affected by leprosy. It is to describe the alienation a person feels because of coronavirus. However references to 'Leicester lepers' only serve to perpetuate the age-old prejudice millions endure today because of leprosy.
“There might be only a handful of people diagnosed and treated with leprosy in the UK each year that would know the hurt this causes. But we are part of a global society where leprosy, although treatable, remains a huge problem.
“I have met too many people who have unnecessarily suffered terrible physical disabilities and the huge emotional hurt of being rejected by their friends, family and community. This is all because of leprosy and the prejudice surrounding the disease which the word ‘leper’ only goes to perpetuate.”
The UN’s principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, published in 2010, states the use of the word ‘leper’ should be removed from government publications and for the media to portray people affected by leprosy with dignity. The same year the BBC’s journalist style guide was amended to include that the word ‘leper’ should not be used in reporting. Yet the pejorative term ceases to be omitted from all BBC content.
Peter said: “Only by fighting against the use of this pejorative term globally can we begin to rid the world of leprosy. Stigma undoubtedly remains the greatest barrier preventing people from coming forward for treatment.
Do have a look at the web site www.leprosymission.org.uk/latest-news where you’ll find among other news items, an article about Victoria Hislop, author of The Island and ambassador for the work of The Leprosy Mission; an inspiring account of the interfaith network in Sri Lanka, established by The Leprosy Mission in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide bombings; and positive news that lessons learnt from COVID-19 in India have shone a light on the spread of disease in city slums that could lead to leprosy rates being slashed ‘
as bad as COVID-19 is, if it means action is taken to improve the living conditions and health of millions of people in Mumbai, at least it will not have been in vain’.
I received the following email from Imogen just after I had returned from an optician’s appointment in Market Harborough, where my eyesight had been thoroughly examined using a variety of state-of-the-art equipment.
‘Thank you for your prayers and support for Chandkhuri Hospital. Dr Elkana and all of the hospital staff are so grateful for your help, but there is still an urgent need for equipment. Our staff are worried about how they will meet demand when the coronavirus pandemic is over. Without the tools they need, our team won’t be able to give patients vital eye operations at the hospital.
The nerves around the eye are often damaged by leprosy, which can prevent the eyelids from blinking and lead to blindness. But with essential equipment like an ophthalmoscope, our team can examine the eye and save the sight of a person affected by leprosy before it’s too late.
Your support today could make this possible. If you and 12 others like you give just £25, you could fund an ophthalmoscope, providing sight-saving treatment for thousands of people. You can give these people hope for a future not limited by leprosy.
Please visit our web site today to give people affected by leprosy the eyecare they deserve.
With every blessing,
We all receive many calls to support so many good causes that are dear to us, but if anyone would like to support the purchase of an ophthalmoscope, with any contribution, please let me know in case we can raise sufficient to fund one together from the Circuit. Thank you. Kathy Morrison (kmm12 at hotmail.com)