Leprosy stigma

Leprosy stigma is a type of social stigma, a strong negative feeling towards a person with leprosy relating to their moral status in society.[1] It is also referred to as leprosy-related stigma, leprostigma, and stigma of leprosy.[2] Since ancient times leprosy instilled the practice of fear and avoidance in many societies because of the associated physical disfigurement and lack of understanding behind its cause. Because of the historical trauma the word "leprosy" invokes, the disease is now referred to as Hansen's disease, named after Gerhard Armauer Hansen who discovered Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterial agent that causes Hansen's disease.[3] Those who have suffered from Hansen's disease describe the impact of social stigma as far worse than the physical manifestations despite it being only mildly contagious and pharmacologically curable.[4][5] This sentiment is echoed by Weis and Ramakrishna, who noted that “the impact of the meaning of the disease may be a greater source of suffering than symptoms of the disease”.[5]

Definition of Stigma

The word 'stigma' originated from the Greeks who used it to “refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status” of a person.[1] These bodily signs can be thought of as the lesions causing physical deformities in a person's skin in the context of leprosy.

American sociologist Erving Goffman defines "stigma" as an attribute that is deeply discrediting;[1] a stigmatized individual is one who is not accepted and not accorded the respect and regard of his peers, who is disqualified from full social acceptance. It is associated with 1) physical deformities, such as facial plaques, facial palsy, claw hand deformity or footdrop; 2) blemishes of character, such as are associated with alcoholism, drug addition, or leprosarium; or 3) race, nation, social class, sexuality and religion that are thought of as second-class by another group.[6][7] Stigma itself is constructed based on “historical processes, cross-cultural differences, and structural inequalities,” which determine social norms.[8]