Millennium Development Goals have had 'little impact' on lives of leprosy sufferers

The Millennium Development Goals have had a huge influence on international development but "little impact" on the lives of leprosy sufferers, according to The Leprosy Mission.

The organisation said there was "no drive to address the inequalities and discrimination" faced by the world's leprosy sufferers, despite an estimated 10 per cent of the world's population - or 650 million people - being disabled, according to the United Nations.

"People affected by leprosy face a triple blow of disease, disability and discrimination and for tens of thousands, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched at the UN General Assembly in 2001, have had little impact on their lives," the organisation said.

The comments come ahead of the 18th International Leprosy Congress, taking place in Brussels next week.

The congress will be joined by more than 800 people from around the world who work with or represent people affected by leprosy, including Leprosy Mission England's Head of Programmes, Sian Arulanantham.

They will be discussing what leprosy sufferers think should replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015 and how the perspectives of leprosy sufferers can shape the post-2015 goals.

Leprosy Mission is concerned that disability more widely is not mentioned in the MDGs, despite so many people being affected.

The "triple blow" of disease, disability and discrimination often means that a leprosy sufferer and their family can be denied access to employment, shunned by their village, and "pushed to the fringes of society".

Mrs Arulanantham told of an Indian man she met in a Leprosy Mission hospital in Kolkata recently who was being treated for leprosy-caused ulcers on his feet without the knowledge of his family.

"He was diagnosed with leprosy 10 years ago and has not told his family as he is so scared of the consequences," she said.

"He went away to seek treatment and had to give his business of running a small stationery shop to his son.

"He told me he wants to return to his community as a businessman and not an untouchable."

She added: "If there was easy access to good quality healthcare for leprosy-affected people he would not be in this predicament in the first place."

In order to find out what leprosy sufferers think about the post-2015 development goals, Leprosy Mission sought the views of 5,000 people affected by leprosy across nine countries in Asia and Africa.

Although many had experienced improved better access to education and infrastructure since the Millennium, they felt they were not benefiting fully because inequality in society and discrimination still need to be addressed.

Mrs Arulanantham said: "The world's most marginalised have not been addressed in the current development framework and we have a responsibility to ensure they are not left out.

"They want to be included in education and training programmes so that they are not reliant on begging. They also want the stigma in their communities broken down. Access to healthcare and education would see huge strides in this being achieved.

"I hope by sharing the research we have conducted, globally we can lobby governments to ensure the views of leprosy-affected people are represented in the Post-2015 development framework."