Let’s Do Our Best to Ensure No More Leprosy, Associated Stigma in India by 2030 (1) [2020/02/12]
I took a nine-day trip to India from late January to early February to observe Anti-Leprosy Day on January 30, to meet with top government officials and make a visit to Gujarat state in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
Anti-Leprosy Day commemorates Mahatma Gandhi’s care and compassion for persons affected by leprosy and is a day to promote activities against the disease while advocating inclusion and rejecting discrimination.
Speaking at an event in New Delhi, I noted that “under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government of India is working hard on the ambitious goal of making India free of leprosy, and the stigma and discrimination associated with it, by 2030.”
I was particularly honored to be back in India, where I received the Gandhi Peace Prize in February last year for my contribution to the fight to eliminate leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and its associated stigma from India and the world.
The ceremony was joined by Health and Family Welfare Minister Harsh Vardhan, Mr. Tarun Das, Chairman of the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF), and Mr. Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
I expressed my appreciation for the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that S-ILF and the CII signed “to drive industry action to end leprosy in India and fight the stigma attached to it.”
I believe this partnership is truly encouraging as the CII, founded in 1895 and celebrating 125 years in 2020, is India's premier business association with more than 9,100 members as well as over 300,000 indirect member enterprises from 291 national and regional sectoral industry bodies.
“I hope that the CII and S-ILF will work together to educate Indian companies about leprosy, and that this will further expand employment opportunities for persons affected by the disease,” I said.
S-ILF was founded in 2006 to help integrate persons affected by leprosy into mainstream society and end the stigma against the disease. It creates opportunities to earn a living, provides educational support and works to spread correct knowledge about leprosy.
In concluding my remarks, I noted that Mahatma Gandhi once said that he didn’t want to be invited to open a leprosy hospital, but to close one when it was no longer necessary. “With those words in mind,” I said, “let us all do our best to ensure that by 2030 there will be no more leprosy, and no more discrimination against leprosy, in India.”
Health and Family Welfare Minister Vardhan, who also attended the event, welcomed the MoU, saying: “Today, the CII officially join the movement to uplift the leprosy affected community.”
He went on to say, “I have already written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the abolishment of more than 100 discriminatory laws and I assure the patients and the foundation that these laws will be completely eradicated in the very near future."
I see this as a highly significant step by the Indian government to tackle the stigma and discrimination against those affected by leprosy.
My speech at India’s Anti-Leprosy Day ceremony can be seen here:
Addressing a ceremony to observe India’s Anti-Leprosy Day on January
30 in New Delhi.
The Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) “to drive industry action to end leprosy in India and fight the stigma attached to it.”