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Yohei Sasakawa
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Talking with Health Workers, Young People About Fighting Leprosy Amid the Pandemic (1) [2022/02/18]
I participate in a webinar titled “Raising Awareness about Leprosy−Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level” organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI) on January 20, 2022. It was joined by health care workers from India and Nepal.

Days before World Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) Day on January 30, I participated in two online sessions with healthcare workers and young people from Asia, Africa and Latin America to discuss fighting the disease amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I first joined a January 20 webinar “Raising Awareness about Leprosy−Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level” organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI).

This was the fourth webinar in the series under the "Don't forget leprosy" campaign launched in August 2021 by the SLI, a strategic alliance between the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease.

Health workers and officials from India and Nepal discussed the role of healthcare professionals in combating leprosy and the successes and challenges faced in tackling the disease during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Anju Sharma, an ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) from India, told the session: “Screening for leprosy during the pandemic is much more difficult. As COVID-19 cases increase, so do my responsibilities because I have to strictly follow COVID-19 protocols, and this takes a lot of time.”

“Due to the pandemic, people are hesitant about getting screened,” she continued, but added: “I reassure them that protocols will be observed and remind them that failure to detect and treat leprosy can lead to disability.”

Dr. Anil Kumar, deputy director-general (Leprosy) in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, spoke about good practices in combatting leprosy and said that a leprosy-free India was not very far off.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a marked decline in screening and detecting cases, he said, some critical interventions had taken place and leprosy-related services continued at the grassroots level.

Dr. Rabindra Baskota, Leprosy Control and Disability Management Section director in Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, said that despite the challenges they faced, health workers continued to detect new cases, raise awareness and treat patients.

But he added that it was necessary to train community health workers to detect new cases and manage leprosy reactions as older and more experienced health workers retire.

Mr. Birodh Khatiwada, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, contributed a video message in which he said that in spite of the pandemic, Nepal’s leprosy program, including the supply of medicine, had not been disrupted.

He said Nepal has already prepared the National Leprosy Roadmap 2021-2030, National Leprosy Strategy 2021-2025, in line with WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy, the Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I told the participants that I was deeply impressed by the devoted efforts of healthcare workers in the frontlines, going house to house to detect cases despite the pandemic, because early diagnosis is the key to preventing disability and ensuring a complete cure.

When asked about ways that healthcare workers can be supported at the grassroots level, I suggested we improve the training of young healthcare workers by putting more emphasis on the human rights issues that persons affected by leprosy continue to face. The Sasakawa Health Foundation is willing to provide easy-to-follow pamphlets on this topic for distribution to ASHAs and other health workers.

I told the webinar that a leprosy-free world will be one in which those who once had the disease are able to live free of discrimination while the people around them no longer harbor the misunderstanding, ignorance and fear that perpetuate discrimination.

In making such a world possible, frontline health workers such as those from India and Nepal have an important role to play.

(To be continued)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:29 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)