Don’t Call Me a Leper

_MG_8545In order to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy, the word “leper” must no longer be used. It is a word that is derogatory, outdated, and is associated with someone who has been rejected, ostracized or regarded as an outcast.

We advocate for the term “people affected by leprosy” to be used instead. The term “leprosy patients” is also acceptable for people who are currently in treatment.

People affected by leprosy have asked that the word “leper” no longer be used. It is an offensive term that has historically been used to justify appalling treatment and the passing of stigmatizing legislation.

Today, having leprosy still means disability, discrimination and poverty for many people worldwide. They have spoken to us about the effect being called a “leper” has on them.

  • “It really hurt me.”
  • “The word carries ugliness and portrays me as unlovable.”
  • “It doesn’t define who I am.”

In 2009, WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa called for an end to usage of the word, which he described as “an extremely damaging term” that contributes to stigma and impacts human rights.

In 2010, the BBC added an entry to its style guide for journalists and reporters noting: “Avoid using the word ‘leper’ when describing someone with leprosy. It carries very negative connotations, suggesting an outcast or pariah.”

That same year, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly said that, “States should remove discriminatory language, including the derogatory use of the term ‘leper’ or its equivalent in any language or dialect, from governmental publications and should revise expeditiously, where possible, existing publications containing such language.”

Zero Discrimination: Ending the Stigma of Leprosy Report

An interactive report published in 2019 by the International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations reveals that up to 50% of people affected by leprosy will face mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. Depression is the most common mental health condition among persons affected by leprosy. There is also an increased risk of suicide among people living with the disease.

Zero discrimination: ending the stigma of leprosy sets out the links between leprosy, negative social attitudes, gender inequality, myths, legal discrimination and mental health issues. The report argues that if we are to achieve zero leprosy, we must end the stigma and the laws and practices that discriminate against people affected by leprosy and their families.

Help Us Fight Discrimination

You can help us defend the rights and dignity of people affected by leprosy by doing all that is possible to avoid using the word “leper.”

When you hear the word used on the radio or television or see it used online or in printed media, you can contact the relevant individuals to explain why we advocate against it being used. Just download our letter template to send or use as a guide when writing your own.


Thanks to American Leprosy Missions’ friend and partner, The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, for use of this content.