A church relief agency is calling on the UK government to ensure that people with disabilities are at the heart of their international development programmes.
After two years of campaigning, with others, for an inquiry, the Leprosy Mission England and Wales has pronounced itself "overjoyed" to read the International Development Committee’s (IDC) report on Disability and Development, and wants DFID (the Department for International Development) to follow the recommendations made.
For too long people with disabilities, including those affected by leprosy, have remained marginalised from overseas aid programmes despite the link between disability and poverty being well-documented, says the church-related agency.
The report calls for a disability strategy and for DFID to use its position of partnership with numerous agencies to ensure measures are incorporated to reach people with disability into every new programme it funds.
Head of Programmes at The Leprosy Mission England and Wales, Sian Arulanantham, is a member of the BOND Disability and Development Group and submitted evidence to the inquiry.
She said: “Finally the government has recognised that people with disability need to be included in overseas aid programmes.
“We recently polled 5,000 people affected by leprosy across nine countries where we work in Asia and Africa. Leprosy is one of the leading causes of disability in the developing world. The results, overwhelmingly, revealed that while most have noticed better access to education and improved infrastructure since the Millennium as a result of overseas aid, they had not personally benefited.
“The IDC report recognises that stigma needs to be tackled; this was a joy to read. Deep rooted stigma surrounding leprosy means people affected by leprosy remain at the fringes of society and are often refused entry to education, training schemes and job opportunities. They see others benefiting from development projects but they remain living in abject poverty.”
The Leprosy Mission England and Wales says it is is "greatly encouraged" by the inclusion of the recommendation that ‘DFID should increase its spending on disability treatment and prevention’ [paragraph 80] particularly in relation to Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD), which includes leprosy.
Ms Arulanantham explained: “Leprosy is a disease where people often don’t seek treatment until they have developed irreversible disabilities, which is incredibly sad. If more overseas aid money was spent on health prevention, people displaying the early signs of leprosy might be identified and treated before developing a life-long disability.”
The NGO adds that it hopes the publication of the IDC report will strengthen the UK’s position in advocating for measures to be put in place to ensure people with disabilities and those affected by NTDs are reached in the UN’s Post-2015 Development Framework.
The framework will replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire next year.
The Leprosy Mission is an international Christian development organisation, seeking to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy. Its goal is to eradicate the causes and consequences of this disease.
The agency is currently focusing on 11 countries where leprosy remains both a chronic disease and a social challenge. These are: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Sudan and South Sudan. Issues centre on disease, disability and discrimination. They also include neglected tropical disease, housing, poverty, social exclusion, micro-loans, education and employment opportunities.
* The Leprosy Mission England and Wales: www.leprosymission.org.uk