International Day of Persons with Disabilities is generally observed across the world, including in Bangladesh, on December 3. A UN day, its annual observance was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3, to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.
It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The day is about promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development, and to raise awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The theme of the day this year has been selected as a 'United in action to rescue and achieve the SDGs for, with and by persons with disabilities'.
There are different reasons for disability. But in Bangladesh a large number of people are being disabled due to leprosy, which is a treatable disease.
Leprosy is one of the leading causes of permanent physical disability. Though Bangladesh has achieved a lot of success in many areas of health services, it is yet to defeat leprosy. Leprosy is not only a physical disease, but also a social disease and a big cause of discrimination.
Disability is often a consequence of leprosy, especially if it is not diagnosed and treated early enough. Common disabilities caused by leprosy include loss of mobility in hands and feet, painful ulcers and infections, and even avoidable blindness.
Because of lack of timely and quality treatment, leprosy affected people turned disabled. Seeing such disability, all leprosy-affected people are made victims of stigma and discrimination and they are shunned by the society, which hamper their daily lives, livelihood and treatment, putting their lives at risk.
When a leprosy patient takes medicines, there may be complications for this. If this is not managed properly, it also may cause disability for the patient.
The disability, caused by leprosy, can be checked if the victims get the facility of reconstructive surgery at the initial stage. Hence, there should be proper arrangement of reconstructive surgery at our medical colleges.
Disability, caused by leprosy, is burdensome because it spreads more stigmas, while disability caused, by other reasons, do not spread so much stigma.
We have 'Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013' for protecting the rights of disabled people, but the matter of leprosy- related disability has not been mentioned in it. Hence, those who turned disabled due to leprosy are being deprived of getting the services offered by the government.
The authorities concerned should take necessary steps for amending the Act so that those disabled because of leprosy are included in the disability criteria and entitled to get the government services.
Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It primarily affects the nerves of the extremities, the skin, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. The disease produces skin ulcers, nerve damage, and muscle weakness. If it isn't treated, it can cause severe disfigurement and significant disability.
The disability resulted in mainly two problems. One is it hampers daily overall life of the victims due to stigma and another is the victims fail to contribute to family and society becoming burden to them. Finding no other alternative, the disabled people are forced to go for begging for livelihood.
Hence, addressing the leprosy issue is important in our national interest, because the disability, caused by it, causes humanitarian, health and economic problems for our country.
The disease is treatable and its test and treatment are available for free in the country. Massive awareness involving the mass media across the can play an important role in bringing the affected people under timely treatment and establishing their rights.
It is necessary to take steps for the treatment of leprosy complications, including reconstructive surgery, at district level hospitals and the country's medical colleges.
We need to concentrate on community-based rehabilitation, advocacy, capacity building, education and stigma reduction. It is needed to take steps so that disabled people can have access to livelihood facility by arranging livelihood training and vocational training for enhancing their skill. It is needed to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the country's development.
Bangladesh is committed to eradicating leprosy by 2030. Adequate financial allocation in the national budget is essential to turn the government's pledge into reality. We have to act now to accelerate towards zero leprosy infection and zero leprosy disability as per the vision of WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030.
The country's Disability Act should be inclusive by keeping the provision of leprosy related disability in it, which can pave the way for access to government services for those disabled because of leprosy.
Let us pledge to work together to make Bangladesh a better place for all by defeating leprosy.
Published by the Editor on behalf of the Observer Ltd. from Globe Printers, 24/A, New Eskaton Road, Ramna, Dhaka.
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