Survey: 20% ‘Reluctant’ to Have Physical Contact with Former Leprosy Patients; Results Show Stigma Still Exists

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Yasuyuki Tokuda, co-representative of the Hansen’s Disease Association for the People

Nearly 20% of respondents said they were “reluctant” to have physical contact with people who had Hansen’s disease or to use the same public baths with them, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s survey report.

The ministry released a report Wednesday on the first-ever survey of people’s attitudes toward former leprosy patients and their families, asking whether they face discrimination and prejudice.

The survey showed once again that discrimination and prejudice still exist today.

Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the leprosy bacillus, which attacks the peripheral nerves and skin. Although medical treatment for leprosy was established in the 1940s, and it was discovered that the disease was not inherited, the government continued to isolate patients until 1996. Later, the Kumamoto District Court ruled that the quarantine policy was unconstitutional.

The government has apologized, but former leprosy patients still face discrimination, such as being denied hotel accommodations.

To assess the current situation, the ministry conducted an online survey in December last year and analyzed the responses of 20,916 respondents.

The survey showed that 38% “know” about leprosy, 52.2% “have heard of the name” and 9.8% “do not know at all.” Meanwhile, 47.2% were unaware of the isolation policy and 14.6% had misunderstood that it was a hereditary disease.

Regarding their awareness of prejudice and discrimination, 35.4% said they “think they have it.” When asked about “living in the neighborhood” with former patients, 9.3% of the respondents said they felt “very much” or “somewhat” uncomfortable.

However, the percentages for “touching,” “using the same public bath,” and “one’s family member marrying a former patient’s family member” increased to about 20%.

“[This survey] shows once again that discrimination persists. I hope the government will work to eliminate discrimination by increasing opportunities to hear what former patients have to say,” said Yasuyuki Tokuda, 79, co-representative of the Hansen’s Disease Association for the People.