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If we can beat Ebola, why not Leprosy? New call in India for Corporate and Social Responsibility. PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 01 February 2015 16:49

Hard on the heels of encouraging news about a slowdown in new cases of Ebola, Colin Coulson-Thomas highlights another opportunity to make a mark on history.

Dr Colin Coulson-ThomasCompanies are missing a historic opportunity to eliminate leprosy, a traditional scourge of mankind.

Speaking in Mumbai at the International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility he raised the question of whether CSR strategy should aim for width or depth: “Should we focus our efforts in order to attain the critical mass to achieve impact, or should we encourage a wider range of initiatives in order to engage as many people as possible? Should we spread risks and have a diversity of projects, or concentrate upon a smaller number of initiatives - perhaps linked by a common theme, purpose or goal?”

The author of Winning Companies; Winning People suggested a proposed CSR activity may need to be of a certain scale or potential to attract interest, achieve an impact and enable people to justify the time, effort and resources required to become involved: “Boards need a strategy and criteria for selecting CSR initiatives. How does one select a project that might appeal to multiple constituencies, interest the media and have a noticeable national or international impact?

Coulson-Thomas suggested: “An ambitious and sensitive board could seek a transformational impact in an area that has traditionally presented challenges for public bodies. One could look for the potential to stand out and attract attention - a noble and engaging objective that relates to brand value. A company concerned with connectivity and exclusivity could look for opportunities to reach communities that have hitherto been excluded.”

The professor suggested one cause that could be adopted: “Lepers have been excluded for over two millennia. They have been ostracised, rejected by their families and communities, ejected from towns and villages and sent to leper colonies. Lepers face discrimination. The disease is grounds for divorce. Here in India - the world's largest democracy - lepers have been denied the vote.”

Coulson-Thomas pointed out that as great leaders, thinkers, artists and scientists have come and gone lepers have been ever present: “When the founders of major religions and political movements were among us there were lepers - and lepers are still with us today. South-East Asia is the World Health Organisation (WHO) region with the highest prevalence of the disease. Leprosy is a curable condition that is particularly associated with India. It can be treated and its elimination has been judged by the World Health Assembly to be a practicable possibility.”

He continued: “India represents over 60% of new cases of leprosy reported by countries that have notified over 1,000 new cases in the past five years - a higher proportion of reported cases than in the period 2006-2008. In 2013 that's 126,913 cases. Given the size of India's population and how leprosy spreads one would expect higher absolute numbers than in other countries, but leprosy can be controlled by multi-drug therapy when detected early. The 44th World Health Assembly in 1991 called for the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem by the year 2000.”

The professor told delegates: “Leprosy can afflict young and old and result in physical and social disabilities. Because they cannot feel pain in areas affected by the disease lepers can suffer more than others from accidents. The Order of St Lazarus - supports missions and homes for lepers in India that care for the unwanted and rejected. One resident was sent away by her four sisters and they in turn were subsequently abandoned by their husbands on account of her leprosy. Cases need to be detected before disabilities occur. ” 

The daily lives of many lepers in India today echo those of victims of leprosy two thousand years ago.

Coulson-Thomas explained: “This continuing strand of human suffering could be ended. A vaccine would increase the protection afforded to those living in areas where leprosy is endemic. In 2013 seventeen Ministers of Health from highly endemic countries met for an international leprosy summit and issued the Bangkok Declaration. This called for a reaffirmation of commitment - with appropriate resourcing and use of multi-drug therapy - to achieve the goal of a world without leprosy.”

Coulson-Thomas told delegates: “The elimination of leprosy is a significant, appealing and achievable target. For those aspiring to make a difference there is an opportunity to achieve a milestone in history and benefit India and many countries in which the disease is found. Don't let leprosy become the forgotten disease. Its elimination needs to become a core CSR goal while a window of opportunity exists.”



Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas has board, public and academic roles and is Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe Operations, leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus.

He was speaking at the 9th International Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility on 19th January, 2015 at the Hotel Taj Lands End, Bandra (West), Mumbai (India) organised by the Institute of Directors of India.

He also presented recommendations for action at the end of the conference and later addressed business leaders in Bangalore.

His most recent books and reports are available from



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