Talking Leprosy: Interview with The Leprosy Mission’s Pradeep Bagival

December 15, 2017

This month, we catch up with Pradeep Bagival, The Leprosy Mission’s Head of Advocacy. One year after joining the International Office, Pradeep is combining his passion for advocacy and commitment to disability rights, to help ensure that the rights of people affected by leprosy features high on the agenda for ILEP members, national governments and the UN.

Pradeep is based in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, where he lives with his wife Priya and two young children (daughter Minnu is five, and son Paul just two months old). And while the office he works for is in London, he says it makes sense in many ways to be at the epicentre of the leprosy region.

Previously, Pradeep had worked for a number of UN agencies and USAID as a disability advisor, and for five years served as the Assistant Commissioner for Disabilities for the Government of India.

Moving to the INGO sector was a welcome next step: “Being a Christian, I was delighted to work for The Leprosy Mission and especially for persons affected by leprosy who are perhaps the most marginalized and excluded amongst the vulnerable population. I have always enjoyed working with INGOs and in my earlier engagement with NGOs in India, I was associated with a rehabilitation centre for persons affected by leprosy in Bangalore,” says Pradeep.

“As a significant number of persons affected by leprosy experience disability, I was looking forward to working for The Leprosy Mission as this would give me an opportunity to continue to work for persons with disabilities. Advocacy has been one of the areas of specialization within disability for me and I consider working for The Leprosy Mission as an opportunity to advocate for that ‘final push’ to eliminate leprosy.”

Pradeep strongly believes that ILEP’s Triple Zero campaign approach is critical to going the last mile in achieving a world without leprosy.

“In my opinion zero discrimination will significantly contribute towards achieving zero transmission and zero disability as the fear of being discriminated against looms large in the minds of persons affected on account of the stigma attached to leprosy.”

He cites the preamble to the constitution of WHO health as rightly articulating health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not mere absence of disease or infirmity. Therefore if leprosy has to end, it is just not about transmission but also about stigma and discrimination.”

And he believes the human rights based approach is now emerging as a promising approach within NTD discourse and more so within the leprosy community, especially after the Human Rights Council passed a resolution on the Principles and Guidelines for elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, and appointed a new Special Rapporteur to tackle this issue.

Last month, The Leprosy Mission met with Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the OHCHR Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, which provided a further opportunity to advocate for mainstreaming the rights of persons with leprosy related disabilities in the global disability rights agenda. And Pradeep urges ILEP members to work closely with all the relevant Special Rapporteurs within the UN HRC framework, to mainstream leprosy within their respective mandates.

Sadly, however, news stories highlighting the lack of rights for some people with leprosy remain all too common. This month, the Indian and international media reported the story of Sajida Begum, 65, who – because she is blind and has lost her fingers – was unable to provide finger prints or a retina scan for her Aadhaar identity card. The card is necessary to receive access to welfare payments.

 While the outcry led to assistance for Sajida, a wider problem of discrimination and social exclusion remains. The Leprosy Mission Trust India have taken up the issue with the State Commissioner to protect the rights of persons with leprosy-related disabilities, and is working closely with the Law Commission of India to abolish discriminatory laws, including advocating for the speedy passage of the EDPAL (Elimination of Discrimination against Persons affected by Leprosy) Bill.

And despite stories like Sajida’s, Pradeep remains optimistic that the rights-based approach will not only change lives, but help end the disease.

“I am highly optimistic that before we see zero transmission, we will certainly witness zero discrimination. India has 63% of the global leprosy burden and the Supreme Court of India’s recent admission of a Public Interest Litigation on discrimination against persons affected by leprosy is a huge leap towards ending discrimination. [With this step], the new mandate on leprosy created by the UN HRC as well as the work of the ILEP members, the day of zero discrimination is not very far.”