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First interfaith symposium to enhance awareness of leprosy

A Triple Challenge

There is an incredibly high number of successful faith-based projects in the field of global health, such as the prevention and treatment of leprosy. The Vatican hosted an interfaith and international symposium to enhance awareness of leprosy and combat the discrimination faced by people suffering from the disease.

Leaders come together in the Vatican to address leprosy

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infectious disease that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. Until the 1980s, there was no cure, which made leprosy one of the most dreaded diseases in the world for its disfiguring effects. Now, with a potent cure in place, those days are well and truly behind us. However, people cured of the disease are still viewed as ‘former leprosy patients’ in many parts of the world. They face harsh discrimination, and it’s hard for them to get equal opportunities in education, marriage, and employment.

This is why the Vatican brought leaders of organizations battling leprosy-based discrimination together to find an answer to this. The symposium highlighted the need to keep working towards reducing transmission of the disease, preventing new infections and promoting social inclusion. 250 people from all over the world as well as religious leaders of the Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu faith, joined the Roman Catholics to come up with strategies for dealing with three main issues.

  •        Reduce the disease burden
  •        Help the sick and their families
  •        Integrate them into society

Many concerning stories were told at the symposium about the issues people with leprosy face around the world. For example, one speaker highlighted laws that still exist that prevent people who suffered from leprosy, to use public transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Also, when someone suffers from leprosy, there is a legal ground for divorce. Another speaker narrated about being forced to travel in a hearse while being quarantined to a sanatorium.

Ultimately, the symposium brought forward a comprehensive list with recommendations. This included:

  •        Call for people affected by Hansen’s disease to be seen as the real protagonists in the fight against the disease and the discrimination it causes.
  •        Seek an end the use of discriminatory language that reinforces stigma.
  •        Urge the leaders of all religions to use their influence to contribute to the elimination of discrimination against people afflicted by leprosy.

Maria Gabriella Pandolfini, who works for the Italian Department of Raptim Humanitarian Travel, viewed the symposium as a fulfilling experience. "Our team felt proud to have contributed to such an important event, we believe that knowledge and awareness can make our world a better place."

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