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Survey in Japan Reveals Discrimination Against Hansen’s Disease Patients Persists

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare recently conducted the first nationwide survey on prejudice and discrimination against former Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients and their families. The published report noted that “prejudice and discrimination continue to exist and remain serious problems” as a result of the inadequate degree of knowledge within Japanese society regarding the condition.

Hansen’s disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae, also known as the “leprosy bacillus.” It leads to loss of sensation in the peripheral nerves in the hands, feet, and other parts of the body, as well as various pathological symptoms on the skin. The contagiousness of the leprosy bacillus is very low, and with early detection and appropriate treatment the disease can be cured without any residual aftereffects. Since the early twentieth century, the Japanese government has adopted a policy of isolation for persons infected with the disease, forcing them to stay in sanatoriums. In addition, patients and their families were subjected to prejudice and discrimination. Patients were also subjected to sterilization and abortion procedures under the former Eugenic Protection Law. The Leprosy Prevention Law, which promoted the segregation of patients, was not repealed until 1996, finally ending the policy of segregation.

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