Published: 07/10/2013

His Holiness Pope Francis' recent negative use of the word 'leprosy' to describe the Vatican is damaging to the world’s leprosy community.

Hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest are still affected by this disease and experience significant discrimination and stigma due to cultural perceptions surrounding leprosy.

In his letter to the Pope, Doug Soutar, the General Secretary of the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations, notes “this use of the term ‘leprosy’ as a label to denote something negative or corrupt risks perpetuating the stigma and discrimination so widely associated with this disease”.

In 2012 alone over 232,000 people were diagnosed with leprosy. Encouraging people to come forward for testing and diagnosis is challenging when met with the individuals’ fear of not only the disease, but of being ostracised by their community.

International organisations have worked tirelessly with the United Nations to eradicate discrimination against people affected by leprosy and have formulated principles and guidelines for reducing discrimination, including discouraging the use of the derogatory term ‘leper’.

Our work focuses not only on fighting the disease but prejudice against the disease deeply rooted in communities across the globe.