Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the presentation of the International Gandhi Award for Leprosy, 2021 at Upa-Rashtrapati Nivas in New Delhi on April 13, 2022.

New Delhi | April 13, 2022

“Dear sisters and brothers,
Over centuries, leprosy has always evoked fear, revulsion and related feelings and those affected by it have been usually approached by society with a lack of empathy. For a very long time, leprosy has posed a monumental physical and psychological challenge for mankind. As we know, till the 1950s, there was a little breakthrough in terms of knowledge or treatment for leprosy. As a result, the visible deformities caused by it had made leprosy a dreaded disease. The stigma and fear associated with the disease led to social discrimination. Leprosy patients suffered from social boycott and were ostracised.
Against such a background, Mahatma Gandhi’s compassion for patients with leprosy stands out as a towering example of exemplary kindness towards fellow human beings. Gandhiji led by example—often tending to leprosy patients personally—in an era in which ignorance about the disease held sway. His efforts to eliminate the social ostracism suffered by people afflicted by leprosy went a long way in spreading awareness about the disease.
In the words of Gandhiji—“Leprosy work is not merely medical relief; it is transforming the frustration in life into the joy of dedication, personal ambition into selfless service. If you can change the life of a patient or change his values of life, you can change the village and the country.”
Sisters and brothers,
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the recipients of the International Gandhi Award for Leprosy: Dr Bhushan Kumar and Sahyog Kushtha Yagna Trust, Sabarkantha for the outstanding work they have been doing in this field.
Both Dr Bhushan Kumar and Sahyog Kushtha Yagna Trust, have been working diligently to raise awareness of leprosy, providing care to those afflicted with it and removing the stigma associated with it. Their efforts are truly praiseworthy. My best wishes for their future endeavors.
Sisters and brothers,
It is heartening to note that the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation has done pioneering work in the field of leprosy eradication. At a time when patients of leprosy were shunned and socially isolated, the Foundation stepped forward to lend a helping hand through treatment and rehabilitation. Its endeavors to ensure the integration of leprosy patients into the social mainstream deserve to be richly commended.
Over the years, we have come a long way in our fight against leprosy. We have successfully accomplished levels of leprosy eradication defined as less than one case per 10,000 population. National and regional campaigns have also been effective in spreading awareness about the disease.
Thanks to focused strategies worldwide to treat it as a public health problem, the burden of leprosy has reduced significantly in most endemic countries. In 2012-13, India recorded 83,000 leprosy cases with a prevalence of 0.68 per 10,000 population. By April 2012, 33 states and Union Territories had attained the levels of leprosy elimination of less than 1 case per 10,000 population.
Sadly, India still reports the highest number of leprosy cases in the world and accounts for (51%) of the new cases detected globally (2020–2021). We need to intensify our efforts toward early detection of these cases, provide equitable access to appropriate treatment and provide integrated leprosy services in the geographically focussed areas with commitment.
Sisters and brothers,
Awareness in the community is essential to promote early case detection. On its part, National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) is paving the way for a leprosy Free-India, in line with Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a Leprosy-free India.
Several important initiatives have been taken from 2016 onwards to control and eradicate leprosy.
Sisters and brothers,
Only the active involvement of all stakeholders alone can lead to the eradication of leprosy in India. It is heartening, therefore, to learn that around 69 percent of villages observed the village-level meetings in Gram Sabhas on Anti-Leprosy Day in 2021.
Finally, let me once again congratulate Dr. Bhushan Kumar and Sahyog Kushtha Yagna Trust on receiving the International Gandhi Award for Leprosy.
Thank you, Jai Hind!”