You can help us to speak up for people affected by leprosy around the world. Advocacy is not just something we need to support in our Partner Countries, we need to speak up here as well. By adding your voice to ours we will all be heard.

One of the most damaging effects of leprosy is the stigma, isolation and discrimination it can lead to. People affected by leprosy are often treated very badly in their communities and called names which justify their treatment.

As part of our efforts to advocate for people affected by leprosy to be treated with dignity and respect we are determined to challenge the use of the ‘L word’ as we have come to know it here in Scotland. We will campaign to stop the use of ‘leper’ in print, on TV, as song lyric or from the pulpit.

The use of the word “leper” to describe someone affected by leprosy is archaic, derogatory and harmful. People affected by leprosy have asked that it not be used – surely that in itself should be reason enough to stop.

It dehumanises people affected by leprosy, equating the person with their disease. It carries with it all the unfortunate associations from the days when people with leprosy were routinely treated as social outcasts and declared unclean. Stigmatising and discriminatory, it is hurtful and demeaning to anyone affected by leprosy.

Still today though it is all too often used to denote someone who is an outcast or pariah for some other reason. This dual meaning adds to the fear, prejudice and stigma surrounding it leading to people affected being afraid to seek treatment, increasing the risk of a more severe disability developing.

By using it you are condoning and potentially encouraging the ongoing mistreatment of people affected by leprosy. You are denying them their dignity and their rights. You are making it harder for our colleagues around the world to persuade governments and others to take the problems of leprosy seriously, to overturn discriminatory legislation and provide comprehensive care and support.

If you mean “outcast”, say “outcast”.

If you mean “pariah”, say “pariah”.

If you mean “person affected by leprosy”, say “person affected by leprosy”.

Don’t add to the injustice they experience with your thoughtless use of words.

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. Since then we have been trying to ensure that it’s use in the media and the public sphere is not condoned and that better words are used in its place.

When we have heard the word used on the radio or television or seen it used in printed media, we have contacted relevant individuals to explain why we advocate against it being used. You can help us by letting us know when and where you have seen it – we can send you a template letter so that you can contact them too.

In recent years we, together with The Leprosy Mission in other parts of Europe, have petitioned the Indian Government to uphold the rights of people affected by leprosy and to repeal a number of discriminatory laws. Huge progress has been made in India recently and while many different organisations were lobbying the Government to make changes, every little helps and our petition was part of that.

We have petitioned both MPs and MSPs to uphold and promote the rights of people affected by leprosy and with other disabilities in their International Development plans and priorities and elsewhere.

To hear about any future petitions you can sign to support people affected by leprosy sign up for our e-news.