Don't call me a leper

  • not a leper

For some years now it has been accepted that in 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 It is a word that is derogatory, outdated, and is associated with someone who has been rejected, ostracised or regarded as an outcast.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 stigmatising 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.

“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. Since 2010, we have worked to ensure that derogatory language is not condoned by media channels or used by public figures, by writing to them and sending them resources. In the same year, the BBC added an entry to its style guide for journalists and reporters noting that the word ‘leper’ is not to be used, following an online report which had used the word repeatedly.

We hope that supporters will defend the rights and dignity of those people affected by leprosy, by doing all that is possible to avoid the use of the word leper.

Help us fight discrimination

In cases where 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 doing the same – download our letter template to send or use as a guide when writing your own.

We have also produced pens featuring a pull-out banner containing information about the word leper and why it’s important that it is no longer used. You can help spread the message too – contact us to request one or more pens for your own use or to distribute among people you know.