Global Appeal 2022 Urges World Not to Forget Leprosy Even Amid COVID-19 Pandemic [2022年02月25日（Fri）]
World Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) Day is celebrated on the last Sunday of January. The purpose of this international day is to increase public awareness of leprosy. This year, the date was January 30.
I have been working for more than 40 years to fight leprosy not only as a medical issue but also as a human rights issue because of the associated stigma and discrimination. I have traveled to more than 120 countries to see the situation for myself. But honestly speaking, I have to acknowledge that my voice has not been loud enough to fully get across my message. In some developed countries I visited, I was sometimes asked: “Is there still leprosy in the world?”
But it is an ongoing disease. Over the past decade, some 200,000 new cases of leprosy have been reported annually worldwide. According to the WHO’s “Global leprosy update” for 2020, however, there was a 37% year-on-year decrease in new cases due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted case-finding activities.
It is very important to reach the many people without knowledge of leprosy and allay their fears by explaining that it’s not hereditary, it’s not divine punishment, and it’s not highly contagious. Wherever I go, I always stress that it is a curable disease, that treatment is available free of charge and that there is no justification for discrimination
Since 2006, I have issued an annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy to coincide with World Leprosy Day, supported by influential individuals and organizations around the world. During the coronavirus pandemic, this call to eliminate stigma and discrimination is more important than ever.
This year, Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI) invited 37 philanthropic foundations from 15 countries to join the 17th annual appeal, which calls for an end to marginalization of persons who have experienced leprosy and the realization of a just and equitable society that respects the human dignity and fundamental freedoms of all its members.
SLI is a strategic alliance that links together the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, the Sasakawa Health Foundation, and The Nippon Foundation for achieving a leprosy-free world. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the second year in a row all Global Appeal-related activities took place online.
Global Appeal 2022 states: “Even today, persons affected by leprosy and their families continue to face social rejection in various parts of the world, and this has been made harder to bear by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”
It concludes: “In the spirit of philanthropy, we call for a society in which everyone can live a dignified life enjoying all their basic rights.”
In my video message to the virtual launch ceremony, I said: “Many issues have been sidelined because of the COVID-19 pandemic, among them the challenges posed by leprosy,” adding that despite the current difficulties, “we must not allow any facet of this disease to be neglected. This includes its human rights dimension: the stigma and discrimination that continue even after complete cure.”
I look forward to working together with all those foundations and others in a spirit of philanthropy for a world free of leprosy and associated discrimination even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The text of the Global Appeal 2022 follows:
Global Appeal 2022
In recent times, we have seen how fear of disease has changed people’s behavior, creating divisions in society and widening inequalities.
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, has had this effect.
It is one of the world’s oldest recorded infectious diseases.
In the past, people with leprosy were ostracized out of fear of infection.
It was seen by some as a divine punishment or a curse.
Leprosy is now curable, but myths and misconceptions remain.
Even today, persons affected by leprosy and their families continue to face social rejection in various parts of the world, and this has been made harder to bear by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
As foundations, we are committed to contributing to the public good.
Addressing social injustice and building a better world is at the heart of what we do.
Discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families is an issue of human rights.
No one should be stigmatized on the basis of a disease.
In the spirit of philanthropy, we call for a society in which everyone can live a dignified life enjoying all their basic rights.
The text and video of my message to the Global Appeal 2022 virtual launch ceremony can be seen here.
Talking with Health Workers, Young People About Fighting Leprosy Amid the Pandemic (2) [2022年02月21日（Mon）]
I engage youth from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in an online discussion dubbed “Raising Awareness about Leprosy―Role of Youth” organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI) on January 25, 2022, in the run-up to World Leprosy Day.
On January 25, I participated in a webinar organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI) in the run-up to World Leprosy Day on January 30. I engaged in an online discussion with young people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America on “Raising Awareness about Leprosy―Role of Youth”.
The session followed three preparatory regional youth forums held in December 2021 and January 2022 in anticipation of a Global Youth Forum on the theme “Don’t Forget Leprosy” organized by SLI slated for March 2022.
Dr. Michael Chen from HANDA Rehabilitation and Welfare Association of China, told participants how the first Asia Youth Forum brought together young people in a virtual meeting to discuss the reduction of stigma and discrimination faced by people affected by leprosy.
He said participants from six Asian countries−Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Nepal−took part in discussions that focused on the need to involve the younger generation in the pursuit of a world free of stigma and discrimination.
“We need to cultivate the potential of young people, provide sufficient funding to young people, and a supportive platform for young people to learn, grow, communicate and solve problems,” Dr. Chen said.
Mr. Marcos Costa from MORHAN (Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen's Disease) of Brazil, spoke of the first Latin American and Caribbean virtual meeting in which young people affected by leprosy, their family members and supporters took part.
The meeting aimed to get young people and their families to join a dialogue on the challenges those affected by the disease face and to explore policy solutions.
“In Brazil, 45 percent of new leprosy cases were not diagnosed in 2020 because of COVID-19. The pandemic has compounded challenges facing young people as many of them are unemployed due to the stigma attached to people affected by leprosy,” he said.
Mr. Tadesse Tesfaye from ENAPAL (Ethiopian National Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy) gave an account of the discussions that took place during the first-ever Africa Youth Forum in which young people from nine countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and Mozambique, took part.
He said the forum explored “how stigma and discrimination manifest upon persons affected by leprosy and their families and the need to build national, regional and international alliances to address social and medical challenges related to the disease.”
For my part, I told the young participants that they had the means to change perceptions about leprosy by dispelling myths rooted during the many centuries that leprosy was incurable, noting: “You are educated and know how to use social media to benefit leprosy-affected communities.”
“We need collective efforts to address the disease itself and, at the same time, the rampant stigma associated with leprosy. Today, the second generation of those affected by leprosy still find difficulties getting a job because of the stigma,” I said.
“The history of the world is changed by young people. The spirit of young people is essential in the fight against leprosy. Speak out and let the world understand leprosy better. Use online tools at your disposal to tell the world not to forget leprosy.”
I believe youth participation will usher in a new and much-awaited era in global and grassroots efforts to fully tackle leprosy as a medical, public health, and human rights issue, paving the way toward a leprosy-free world.
I promised the participants that I will convey what I learned from them to presidents and prime ministers as well as senior officials of WHO and the U.N. Human Rights Council when next I have the opportunity to interact with them.
Talking with Health Workers, Young People About Fighting Leprosy Amid the Pandemic (1) [2022年02月18日（Fri）]
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)
My Message for World Leprosy Day 2022 [2022年01月18日（Tue）]
On the eve of this year’s World Leprosy Day, or World Hansen’s Disease Day, on January 30, 2022, I posted a message in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination on the WHO website.
My message focuses on why we must not allow leprosy to be forgotten even amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. It also introduces the “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign I launched to keep the disease from slipping from view and ensure that the needs of those affected by it are not neglected.
World Leprosy Day, celebrated on the last Sunday of January, is an opportunity to show solidarity with people who have experienced leprosy, raise awareness of the disease, and call for an end to leprosy-related stigma and discrimination.
Allow me to share with you here the full text of my message for World Leprosy Day 2022, which you can also find on the WHO website:
[Text of message]
Message for World Leprosy Day 2022
10 January 2022
From Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination
The social and economic upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on persons affected by leprosy and their families, many of whom were in a vulnerable position to begin with. Lockdowns implemented by governments have made it harder for them to access treatment and care, deprived them of income-generating opportunities, and exacerbated the deprivations their marginalized communities already faced.
With this in mind, in August 2021 I launched an awareness campaign called “Don’t forget leprosy.” The campaign aims to keep leprosy from slipping from view amid the COVID pandemic and ensure that the needs of those affected by the disease are not neglected.
I have been seeking the support of health ministers of leprosy-endemic countries, conducting awareness campaigns in collaboration with organizations of persons affected by leprosy, NGOs, research institutes and others, reaching out to the media, hosting webinars and organizing my annual Global Appeal to end the stigma and discrimination that persons affected by leprosy face.
Data published by WHO in September 2021 for the calendar year 2020 showed a drop in new cases of 37% on the previous year. This is evidence that, in many countries, measures against leprosy, including case detection and treatment, have been disrupted by the pandemic. Delays in detecting and treating cases can lead to irreversible physical impairment, so it is essential that these services continue. That is why I have been seeking the support of government officials and health professionals for the “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign.
Leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is a curable infectious disease caused by the bacillus M. leprae. But the disease is difficult to contract and most people will never develop it even if exposed to leprosy bacilli. Over the years I have met with thousands of leprosy patients and have never developed leprosy. However, what makes leprosy such a challenge is the discrimination that accompanies it−discrimination that has been recognized as a human rights issue by the United Nations.
This discrimination has existed throughout the world from Old Testament times up until the present day, regardless of race or country. For many persons affected by leprosy, the discrimination doesn’t end once they are cured, and that tells me that society has a disease. I am convinced that if we can solve the issue of discrimination in leprosy, this can become a model for solving all the human rights problems in the world.
Central to finding solutions to these challenges will be persons affected by leprosy themselves. In order to effectively carry out case-finding activities disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, it is necessary for them to get involved and make use of their experience and knowledge. It is also important that they are active on social media and speak out against discrimination.
We are the only creatures on Earth that have been given the ability to reason. Let us use our reason to confront the stigma that persons affected by leprosy face, cure society of the disease of discrimination and stop repeating the mistakes of the past.
On the foundation’s website, I posted another version of my message to the members of the leprosy community and healthcare professionals for World Leprosy Day.
The text and the video can be seen here:
【Yohei Sasakawa Around the World】 (9) Visit to “Leprosy Island” in Palau in 2010 [2021年12月16日（Thu）]
I would like to share with you a video taken during my visit to the Republic of Palau in November 2010 as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.
Palau is an island country surrounded by beautiful ocean and coral reef in the western Pacific, with a population of approximately 20,000 people.
I first visited the Belau National Hospital where I met with all six persons diagnosed with leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, in the country in the two preceding years, including a 17-year-old girl.
I learned that the health administration was functioning well. There were amply supplies of multidrug therapy (MDT) and all six had been started on treatment at an early stage of the disease and showed no signs of deformity.
I then took a small boat to Ngerur Island, known locally as “Raibyo-shima,” or “leprosy island” in Japanese. I searched for signs of where people might once have lived, but was not able to find any. Only later would I learn that the remains of some buildings as well as some graves were to be found on the other side of the island.
Former health minister and then foreign minister, Mr. Victor Yano, showed me a 60-page document that explained how when Palau was under Japanese rule in the 1930’s, persons affected by leprosy were isolated on the island, earning it the name “Raibyo-shima.”
I take every opportunity to visit such locations and see for myself how persons affected by leprosy were treated in the past, as I feel a duty to ensure that this history is not forgotten.
In 2019, three new cases of leprosy were detected in Palau. (No data is available for 2020.)
Taking Part in Webinar on “Hansen’s Disease as Human Rights Issue” (2) [2021年10月14日（Thu）]
The second part of the webinar was devoted to a Q&A session in which I took questions from participants. The first question was from Mr. Ardhy Eboe, Secretary of PerMaTa South Sulawesi, the largest provincial branch of PerMaTa National, an Indonesian organization of people affected by leprosy. He asked me what role the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should play in supporting persons affected by Hansen’s disease.
I responded that the convention aims to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including those affected by Hansen’s disease and that it is the governments that have to implement it.
But we cannot just wait for our governments to act, I said, adding that it is crucially important that we ourselves use the convention as a tool in our fight and communicate it to society.
To support persons affected by leprosy in these efforts, I said, the Sasakawa Health Foundation and The Nippon Foundation are helping them build up their organizational capacity, adding: “I would like to see a society in which everyone is active, able to express their opinions to the authorities with confidence, and their contribution is valued.”
Ms. Florence Taaka, a partnership development officer of the Netherlands Leprosy Relief (NLR), asked me how WHO is dealing with stigma and discrimination against Hansen’s disease.
I noted that WHO used to deal with Hansen’s disease only as a medical issue, focusing on curing the disease. But as I found after The Nippon Foundation provided funding for WHO to distribute multidrug therapy (MDT) free of charge between 1995 and 1999, even though people were cured of leprosy, this did not mean that the stigma and discrimination they faced disappeared.
This, I said, is what prompted us to approach the United Nations to take up leprosy as a human rights issue and which culminated after seven years in the 2010 U.N. General Assembly resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, together with principles and guidelines. WHO has since been addressing Hansen’s disease not only as a medical but also as a human rights issue.
I told the webinar participants that the WHO now pays heed to my idea of seeing leprosy activities in terms of a motorcycle, namely that the front wheel represents curing the disease and the rear wheel symbolizes ending discrimination. Only when both wheels are turning at the same time will we make progress toward our destination of a leprosy-free world.
In addition to the series of six webinars, the 10-month “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign includes media briefings held online, TV and radio spots, videos featuring the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s activities and messages, and the 17th Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy scheduled for the end of January 2022.
I look forward to taking part in these events designed to send a powerful appeal to the world: “Don’t forget leprosy.” We must not allow Hansen’s disease to be left behind, even amid the pandemic.
With Mr. Ardhy Eboe (left),
secretary of PerMaTa South Sulawesi, an Indonesian organization of people affected by leprosy.
With Ms. Florence Taaka (right), a partnership development officer of the Netherlands Leprosy Relief (NLR).
Taking Part in Webinar on “Hansen’s Disease as Human Rights Issue” (1) [2021年10月13日（Wed）]
Joining the second webinar of the "Don’t forget leprosy” campaign marking the 20th anniversary of my appointment as a leprosy elimination ambassador. The webinar was held on September 29, 2021.
I was pleased to participate in a webinar on the theme of “Hansen’s Disease/Leprosy as a Human Rights Issue” in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and chairman of The Nippon Foundation.
The event was the second in a series of six webinars as part of a 10-month awareness campaign called “Don’t forget leprosy” to help ensure that leprosy is not forgotten amid the coronavirus pandemic. The campaign marks the 20th anniversary of my appointment as a leprosy elimination ambassador.
The webinar series is organized by the Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF) and for the second webinar SHF received the collaboration of the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen’s Disease (MORHAN) of Brazil.
The webinar started off with a talk session in which I had the great honor to speak with Ms. Julia Gama, Miss Universe Brazil 2020, and Ms. Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil 2021.
Ms. Gama has worked as a volunteer at MORHAN for the last seven years, helping persons affected by Hansen’s disease and their families.
She said that through her activities she now considers Hansen’s disease not only a medical but also a human rights issue, citing examples of people who continue to face discrimination and whose marriages have ended in divorce or who have been ostracized by their families and communities because of the disease.
To try to overcome such problems, Ms. Gama is reaching out to as many people as possible by posting about her activities with MORHAN on Instagram. She accompanies these posts with short messages that Hansen’s disease is curable and that stigma and discrimination have no place.
Next up was Ms. Teixeira, who said: “It was a great honor to be chosen Miss World Brazil and thus become an ambassador of the fight against Hansen’s disease.”
She said she wants to serve as a bridge between persons affected by Hansen’s disease and ordinary people, expressing her intent to make full use of an intercollegiate social networking service in the country.
In the coming days, she will be part of a MORHAN delegation visiting several cities in the north of the country, including those deep in the Amazon, to sensitize local governments to act in defense of the rights of persons affected by Hansen’s disease. “We will certainly unite many voices so that Hansen’s disease is not forgotten,” Ms. Teixeira said.
In response, I expressed my deep appreciation to Julia and Caroline−two ladies who are beautiful, popular and socially influential−for taking up Hansen’s disease both as a human rights issue as well as a medical issue and said, “We’ve got wonderful partners in our fight.”
I also saluted them for their active use of smartphones and social media such as Twitter and Facebook to disseminate information on the disease, and asked them to encourage persons affected by Hansen’s disease to make their voices heard with a view to correcting misinformation about the disease.
(To be continued)
I had the great privilege to join a talk session with Miss Universe Brazil Julia Gama and Miss World Brazil Caroline Teixeira in a webinar that forms part of the "Don’t forget leprosy” campaign on September 29, 2021.
Ms. Julia Gama, Miss Universe Brazil 2020.
Ms. Caroline Teixeira, Miss World Brazil 2021.
“Traveling Around the Globe”: Memoirs on My Life-Long Quest for Leprosy-Free World Published (2) [2021年09月06日（Mon）]
The Japanese media have dealt extensively with the agonies inflicted upon persons affected by leprosy and their family members over the years in Japan, but the global fight against the disease has hardly been reported.
During the 20 years that I have served in the role of a leprosy elimination ambassador, significant progress has been made toward the elimination of leprosy. Thanks to the combined efforts of many stakeholders−including the WHO, national governments, NGOs, people’s organizations, and leprosy specialists−almost every country has achieved elimination of leprosy as a public health problem, reducing prevalence to less than 1 case per 10,000 population.
But the number of new cases of leprosy reported worldwide has remained almost unchanged for the past 10 years at about 200,000−and now, with the onset of COVID-19, efforts against leprosy have been set back by demands on governments to respond to the pandemic.
Besides, the stigma and discrimination persons affected by leprosy and their family members face remains a major barrier to the prompt diagnosis and treatment required to interrupt transmission once and for all. If anything, it is a lesson we have learned in our fight against leprosy that stigma against COVID-19 patients is nothing but a drag on our pursuit to conquer the disease.
My mission as the WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination is not over yet. I need to keep on working harder to complete it as leprosy is an ongoing issue.
I want to leave a written record of what society was like for those who will look back on these times 50 years from now.
As the book describes in detail, I have lived by the conviction that my “battlefield” is where the problems lie as that is where solutions can be found. I can never solve a problem by sitting in a comfortable air-conditioned office reading reports from my staff. --------------------------
Soon after I launched the book in July, a friend of mine told me that the cover resembles the poster for the 1970 Italian movie “Sunflower” starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. I am not a big fan of movies, but I looked into it.
It’s true, the cover image is like a still from the movie, which was the first western movie to be filmed in the then Soviet Union, with the closing scenes shot in the sunflower fields in Khorsen oblast south of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. I am told that this movie, directed by Vittorio De Sica, is one of the foreign movies most loved by Japanese.
The photo used for my book cover was taken in Russia in 2012 on our road journey from Astrakhan to Krasnador in southern part of the country. I discussed the cover design with Ms. Natsuko Tominaga, The Nippon Foundation’ photographer, who almost always travels with me. From a selection of about 10 photos, it did not take us long to agree on the sunflower photo, and I think we made a great choice.
The cover of my book: “Traveling Around the Globe.” The photo was taken in Russia in 2012 on a road journey from Astrakhan to Krasnador.
The poster for the 1970 Italian movie “Sunflower” starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.
“Traveling Around the Globe”: Memoirs of My Life-Long Quest for Leprosy-Free World Published (1) [2021年09月03日（Fri）]
A recently published book on my life-long quest for a leprosy-free world, “Traveling Around the Globe: Reports from the Leprosy Frontlines.”
At the age of 82, I am an older senior citizen with a grade 1 disability. I go to work every day with an awareness of death. I continue my activities humbly to the best of my ability, searching for solutions to various social issues with the understanding and cooperation of many people.
For the past 18 months, my life-long quest for a world without leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and the associated stigma and discrimination has largely been put on hold by the novel coronavirus pandemic. But this has given me the chance to ponder over how I have come to where I am and what I should do from now on.
Over more than four decades, I have made 552 overseas trips, spanning a total of 3,399 days, on my mission to fight both the disease and the discrimination−from the Amazon rainforest to a village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that was home to a semi-nomadic population of pygmies. I suppose it must be the will of God that I have not been infected by malaria or dengue fever in the course of these journeys.
I look forward to the day when I can begin traveling again on my life-long quest, once we have made tangible progress in the battle against COVID-19.
In the meantime, the last 18 months have provided me with an opportunity to compile my fullest account yet of my work against leprosy. “Chikyu wo Kakeru; Sekai no Hansenbyo no Zensen Kara” (which can be translated as “Traveling Around the Globe: Reports from the Leprosy Frontlines”) is 936 pages long and contains about 700 photos.
Released by Kousakusha Co., the book covers my activities as a leprosy elimination ambassador, making some 200 overseas trips to a total of about 70 countries.
Among other things, it shows how consistently and passionately I reiterated my threefold message, namely, that leprosy is curable, free treatment is available around the world, and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy has no place.
The book also sheds light on my years-long journey leading to the 2010 U.N. General Assembly resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members together with accompanying principles and guidelines. This was the culmination of persistent advocacy, with the support of other stakeholders and the Japanese government, to urge the U.N. to recognize discrimination in leprosy as a human rights issue.
For now, the book is available only in Japanese, but I am planning to publish a translation, hopefully sometime next year.
(To be continued)
“Don't Forget Leprosy” Campaign Marks 20th Anniversary as a Leprosy Elimination Ambassador (2) [2021年08月18日（Wed）]
Speaking at the first webinar of the “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign on August 4, 2021, to mark the 20th anniversary of my appointment as an ambassador for leprosy elimination.
In a recent interview with the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Leprosy Bulletin, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus observes: “Leprosy control is typically a marathon program; not a sprint. By nature, it tends to slip down the list of priorities when a country is hit by an acute, urgent event like a pandemic, natural disaster, or other emergency.”
“In the context of a temporary setback in leprosy control because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Sasakawa’s role is as important as ever in making sure that leprosy is not forgotten,” he said, adding: “It is also important that he maintains contact with actors in the field−including WHO, national leprosy programs, partners, and affected communities−and that he stays prepared to provide support for leprosy activities when they resume, expand, and ultimately return to their full swing.”
The 10-month “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign includes a series of six webinars; media briefings held online; TV and radio spots; videos featuring the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s activities and messages; and the annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy scheduled for the end of January 2022.
For the duration of the campaign, I would also like to share some thoughts about my role and how I have approached it in the Leprosy Bulletin (formerly known as the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Newsletter), which I publish every two months to share information about my activities and provide a platform for individuals, organizations and national programs to voice their opinions and encourage others through their efforts.
In my keynote speech for the first webinar of the “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign on August 4, I noted that for more than 18 months, the novel coronavirus pandemic “has changed the way we live our lives. It has also affected leprosy work. In many countries, activities such as case finding, diagnosis, and rehabilitation have been cut back or even discontinued.”
“At the local level, I hear that access to health services has become more difficult. Also, that people are facing renewed discrimination,” I said, adding: “That’s why we are starting this campaign: to send a powerful appeal to the world: “Don’t forget leprosy.”
I am ready to take the lead in reaching out to stakeholders, including policymakers, to ensure that leprosy is not forgotten. We must not allow leprosy to be left behind, even amid the pandemic.
A transcript of my keynote speech for the first webinar of the “Don’t forget leprosy” is available here. To see the latest issue of the Leprosy Bulletin, and back issues, visit here.
With WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (right) on a visit to Geneva in 2018 in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.