Sasakawa Health Foundation Holds Seminar on Hansen’s Disease Medical Care in Brazil [2020/12/24]
The Sasakawa Health Foundation, The Nippon Foundation’s partner organization, held an online seminar on December 13 on Hansen’s disease (leprosy) medical care in Brazil for doctors and other healthcare professionals in Japan interested in learning and engaging in international health services.
Co-organized by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Japanese Dermatological Association, the seminar was joined by experts from Brazil’s Ministry of Health, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Brazil Hansen’s Disease Society and the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease (Morhan) who talked about Hansen’s disease control activities in Brazil, including health policy and clinical practice.
Speaking in my capacity as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I told the participants that I was pleased to be part of the first such seminar providing Japanese doctors and healthcare specialists, including those working at national sanatoriums for persons affected by Hansen’s disease, with an opportunity to learn about the current state of Hansen’s disease medical care in the Latin American country.
I expressed my appreciation to the Brazilian presenters, for whom the seminar was taking place on Saturday evening, Brazil time (Sunday morning in Japan). Among these were Dr. Ciro Martins Gomes of the Health Ministry’s Department of Diseases of Chronic Conditions and Sexually Transmitted Infections and also a full-time dermatology professor of the University of Brasília, who lectured on the nation’s 2019-2022 National Strategy to Combat Hansen’s Disease, and Dr. Miguel Aragon Lopez of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/WHO, who talked about the WHO’s collaboration with the Brazilian government, touching upon the country’s zero-leprosy road map that he said will be aligned with the WHO Global Leprosy Strategy 2021-2030 now being finalized by member countries. The WHO strategy is more ambitious than ever, shifting the paradigm towards “zero leprosy”, which includes zero leprosy-related disability and zero discrimination.
I was also impressed by the remarks of Dr. Paula Soares Brandão, a volunteer of Morhan and a professor of the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Rio de Janeiro, who referred to “Telehansen,” a nationwide toll-free telephone counseling service Morhan has been operating since 1988 with the assistance of The Nippon Foundation. It makes it possible for those in remote areas to seek consultation for symptoms and find out about treatment.
In Japan, Hansen’s disease is now rare, with only a few imported cases reported by the government each year. But it is an ongoing infectious disease in Brazil and many other countries around the world.
In 2019, around 28,000 people were newly diagnosed with Hansen’s disease in Brazil−the second-largest number in the world after India. It remains the only country with a population of over 1 million that has yet to achieve the elimination of Hansen’s disease as a public health problem−with elimination defined by the WHO as a prevalence rate of less than one case per 10,000 persons.
In March this year, my scheduled trip to Brazil was called off when the National Hansen’s Disease Summit 2020 that I was to attend had to be postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The summit is on hold, but The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation stand ready to assist with preparations when it can be rescheduled, hopefully at the earliest opportunity.
It is my sincere hope that the Japanese doctors and healthcare professionals who joined the seminar have developed a greater understanding of Hansen’s disease medical care in Brazil and that some of them may in the future have the opportunity to cooperate with the country on initiatives to achieve zero leprosy.