Background: Interpretation of Leprosy as a sickness differs among society. The set of beliefs, knowledge and perceptions towards a disease play a vital role in the construction of stigma towards a disease. The main purpose of this study was to explore the extent and correlates of the perceived stigma towards leprosy in the community living close to the leprosy colony in Non Somboon region of Khon Kaen Province of Thailand.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted among 257 leprosy unaffected community participants, above the age of 18 who were living close to the Leprosy colony in Non Somboon region of Thailand. Each participant was asked a questionnaire containing characteristics of the participants in terms of socio-demographic background and knowledge regarding the disease. In addition perceived stigma towards leprosy was measured using EMIC (Explanatory Model Interview Catalogue) questionnaire.
Results: Among EMIC items, shame or embarrassment in the community due to leprosy was felt by 54.5%, dislike to buy food from leprosy affected persons were 49.8% and difficulty to find work for leprosy affected persons were perceived by 47.1%. Higher total EMIC score was found in participants age 61 years or older (p = 0.021), staying longer in the community (p = 0.005), attending fewer years of education (p = 0.024) and who were unemployed (p = 0.08). Similarly, perceptions about leprosy such as difficult to treat (p = 0.015), severe disease (p = 0.004) and punishment by God (p = 0.011) were significantly associated with higher perceived stigma.
Conclusions: Perceived stigma towards leprosy was found highest among participants with age 61 years or older, longer duration of stay in community close to the leprosy colony, lower duration of education and participants who were unemployed had higher perceived stigma. Similarly, participants with perceptions of leprosy such as difficult to treat, severe disease and punishment by God had higher perceived stigma towards leprosy. There is an urgent need of stigma reduction strategies focused on education and awareness concerning leprosy.