The Leprosy Mission 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 the Covid-19 The Leprosy Mission has 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.
Peter Waddup, national director of The Leprosy Mission, described the word ‘leper’ as outdated, derogatory and stigmatising to the millions of people today affected by leprosy globally.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, this week, 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.
“How is it acceptable for someone with a 21st Century disease to be labelled as an outcast by the UK media?
“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.
Mr Waddup 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.
“We are calling on our loyal network of amazing supporters across the UK who have done so much to help people affected by leprosy across Asia and Africa to ask people not to use the ‘L-word’.
“This may mean contacting a newspaper or gently having a quiet word with their church leader after the service should they use the term ‘leper’ when talking about a Bible story.”
Picture: Peter Waddup, national director of The Leprosy Mission, meets Jegathees, who has been cured of leprosy, in Sri Lanka. (The Leprosy Mission).