Bangladesh is seeking to remove the stigma attached to people suffering from the disfiguring disease of leprosy.
The Dhaka government has repealed a British Empire-era law from 1898 which confined lepers to state-run asylums in the belief that the disease was highly contagious (a reasonable assumption at the time since there was no cure).
Officials now assert that ‘The 1898 Lepers Act’ violates human rights.
The Dhaka parliament stated: The Lepers Act was made to keep leprosy patients secluded on the plea that the disease was contagious and not curable. It's now scientifically proved that the disease is not contagious and is curable like any other diseases.”
Parliament spokesman Joynal Abedin told Agence France Presse (AFP): The parliament scrapped the act to establish human dignity, human rights and values and end discrimination that the country's leprosy patients faced for more than a century.”
According to media reports, people in Bangladesh affected by leprosy have been subject to arrests and fines if they were caught outside of care centers.
BBC reported that victims frequently encounter enormous discrimination and humiliation in Bangladesh, where they are typically refused jobs and forbidden to use public transport.
The government believes there are about 50,000 people afflicted with leprosy in the country, although activists think the number is much higher.
Activists in Bangladesh have welcomed the government’s new measure.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, an MP from the ruling Awami League, who introduced the bill in parliament, told BBC: It is a first step, it is a first building block towards a leprosy-free Bangladesh. We can now begin the fight against the social stigma and the mindsets which actually says this is a contagious disease.”
Chowdhury added: “It doesn't of course solve the problem and it's a problem that will not be solved overnight because it needs awareness and it needs society getting involved and people changing their mindsets and attitudes.
He is hopeful that by removing the stigma against leprosy, more victims will seek cure through a multi-drug therapy.
Through the repeal of this act, this treatment will be available in all hospitals, he said. It is all very well stating that in a law, but we have [to] make sure that this is the case in practice.