Orissa High Court: A Division Bench of S. Muralidhar, CJ and S.K. Panigrahi, J., directed to ascertain the actual living conditions and medical facilities available to the leprosy patients in the State.
The instant petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India was filed in the nature of public interest litigation seeking inter alia directions to the Opposite parties – State authorities for effective implementation of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) and to give directions for composite post-management treatment and eradication of leprosy form the State.
- Despite interventions through the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) and integrating it with the general health system, the incidence of leprosy has not gone down.
- While the State of Odisha was quick to declare Odisha as leprosy free State in 2006-07, it dismantled several posts of paramedical workers and field officers that earlier existed to deal with the situation.
- There is a callous neglect by the State authorities to the medical and health care needs of leprosy patients as training program of a three day training program is devised to train Multi-Purpose Health Workers (MPHW) and 2 days’ training given to Block Nodal Leprosy Worker (BNLW) to convert them to LTPWs which is inadequate.
- Not even single counselor, dresser or health care staff has been appointed by the Government of Odisha to provide counseling services to the victims of leprosy and their family members.
The Court relied on Pankaj Sinha v. Union of India, (2014) 16 SCC 390 as the facts and prayers are very similar and laid down extensive directions
- The Union and the States are to undertake periodical national surveys for determining the prevalence rate and new cases detection rate of leprosy and, at the same time, publish and bring the reports of the National Sample Survey of Leprosy conducted in 2010-11 and subsequent thereto into the public domain. That apart, the activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) must be given wide publicity
- On leprosy day which is internationally observed every year on the last Sunday of January, the Union of India along with all State Governments should organize massive awareness campaigns to increase public awareness about the signs and symptoms of leprosy and the fact that it is perfectly curable by the Multi Drug Therapy (MDT). Awareness should also be spread about the free availability of MDT at all government health care facilities in the country, the prescribed course for MDT treatment and all other relevant information related to MDT. The content and information contained in the awareness programmes should discontinue to use frightening images of people disabled with leprosy and instead use positive images of cured persons sharing their experiences of being cured of leprosy;
- The Union and the States are to ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications including the MDT drugs are available free of cost and do not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres (PHCs) or, as the case may be, public health facilities in the country;
- All-year awareness campaigns should also be run, by the Union as well as the States, to inform the citizenry that under the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP), treatment is provided free of cost to all leprosy cases diagnosed through general health care system including NGOs
- The Union and the States must organize seminars at all levels which serve as platforms to hear the views and experiences directly from the former patients and their families as well as doctors, social workers, experts, NGOs and Government officials;
- The awareness campaigns must include information that a person affected by leprosy is not required to be sent to any special clinic or hospital or sanatorium and should not be isolated from the family members or the community. The awareness campaigns should also inform that a person affected with leprosy can lead a normal married life, can have children, can take part in social events and go to work or school as normal. Acceptability of leprosy patients in the society would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the disease;
- Health care to leprosy patients, at both Government as well as private run medical institutions, must be such that medical officials and representatives desist from any discriminatory behaviour while examining and treating leprosy patients. Treatment of leprosy should be integrated into general health care which will usher in a no-isolation method in general wards and OPD services. In particular, it must be ensured that there is no discrimination against women suffering from leprosy and they are given equal and adequate opportunities for treatment in any hospital of their choice. To this effect, proactive measures must be taken for sensitization of hospital personnel;
- Patients affected with leprosy, for whom partial deformity can be corrected by surgery, should be advised and provided adequate facility and opportunity to undergo such surgeries;
- The possibility of including leprosy education in school curricula so as to give correct information about leprosy and leprosy patients and prevent discrimination against them should be explored;
- The Union and the State Governments must ensure that both private and public schools do not discriminate against children hailing from leprosy affected families. Such children should not be turned away and attempt should be made to provide them free education;
- Due attention must be paid to ensure that the persons affected with leprosy are issued BPL cards so that they can avail the benefits under AAY scheme and other similar schemes which would enable them to secure their right to food;
- The Union and the States should endeavour to provide MCR footwear free of cost to all leprosy affected persons in the country;
- The States together with the Union of India should consider formulating and implementing a scheme for providing at least a minimum assistance, preferably on a monthly basis, to all leprosy affected persons for rehabilitation;
- The Union and the State Governments must proactively plan and formulate a comprehensive community-based rehabilitation scheme which shall cater to all basic facilities and needs of leprosy affected persons and their families. The scheme shall be aimed at eliminating the stigma that is associated with persons afflicted with leprosy.
- The Union Government may consider framing separate rules for assessing the disability quotient of the leprosy affected persons for the purpose of issuing disability certificate in exercise of the power granted under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
The Court directed “Director, Health Services, Odisha should specifically address the above issues and place before this Court by the next date by way of an affidavit the complete up to date statistics regarding (a) prevalence of leprosy of both varieties (b) status of compliance with each of the directions issued in Pankaj Sinha as far as Odisha is concerned (c) Status of availability of treatment, beds, drugs (including MDT) at the various hospitals, PHCs, health care centres in urban and rural locations (d) status of filling up of vacant posts of medical officers and staff.”
The case was next listed for 02-09-2021.[Bipin Bihari Pradhan v. State of Odisha, 2021 SCC OnLine Ori 972, decided on 14-07-2021]
Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
For Petitioner- Mr B.K. Ragada
Opposite Parties- Mr M.S. Sahoo