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Let’s Do Our Best to Ensure No More Leprosy, Associated Stigma in India by 2030 (2) [2020年02月13日(Thu)]
During my stay in India, I was interviewed by various media, including the Times of India, PTI, IANS, the Statesman, New Ripples and VANDE (Video Audio Network for Development and Education) Gujarat.

I told them that while India's measures against leprosy were “the most advanced in the world,” the country has a huge population and I recognized that its efforts to reach some population groups are probably not yet sufficient.

In particular, I appealed for a leprosy eradication program to be included in the country's school curriculum to increase awareness about the disease.

While the rest of the world observes World Leprosy Day on the last Sunday in January, which fell on January 27 this year, India observes its Anti-Leprosy Day on January 30, the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi.

According to WHO, India has the highest annual number of new cases of leprosy in the world, accounting for about 60% of 210,000 new cases registered globally in 2017.

Leprosy was for a long time treated as a special disease with diagnosis and treatment taking place at specialized hospitals and this contributed to discrimination.

In my media interviews I said that WHO has worked to reform this so that leprosy is integrated with other diseases and can be diagnosed and treated at general hospitals. From what I have seen during my travels around India, this is now happening and I look forward to seeing more integration.

On January 31, I flew from Delhi to Ahmedabad in the western coastal state of Gujarat. During my five-day stay in the city, I met with senior state government officials and representatives of the Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL) and others to get briefed on the state’s fight against leprosy and the stigma and discrimination it causes.

I also visited the Gandhi Kusta Seva Ashram leprosy colony, where I spoke with leaders of the community about their lives and was treated to a dance performance by their children.

Furthermore. I visited Sanand Taluka and Sanathan public health centers in the city, where I talked with and encouraged ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists). These are female community health workers who have been trained to recognize symptoms of leprosy. They hold the key to early diagnosis of the disease, which helps prevent disability and ensure a complete cure.


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Offering words of encouragement to ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) at the Sanand Taluka public health center in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State on February 1.

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With young residents of Mahatma Gandhi Kusta Seva Ashram leprosy colony in Ahmedabad on February 2.

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Interviewed on the state government channel VANDE (Video Audio Network for Development and Education) Gujarat in Ahmedabad on February 3.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 16:20 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Let’s Do Our Best to Ensure No More Leprosy, Associated Stigma in India by 2030 (1) [2020年02月12日(Wed)]
​​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:

https://www.nippon-foundation.or.jp/en/who/message/speeches/2020/40433.html


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Addressing a ceremony to observe India’s Anti-Leprosy Day on January
30 in New Delhi.

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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.”

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Many young residents of leprosy colonies attend the Anti-Leprosy Day
ceremony.







 (To be continued)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:36 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Global Appeal 2020 Calls on the World to End Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy (2) [2020年02月05日(Wed)]
I was truly honored by the presence of Prime Minister Abe, who took pains to attend the event after hours of heated deliberations in the Diet (Parliament) earlier in the day. Reflecting on the nation’s past segregation policy, he told participants that the government has offered apologies and assistance to persons affected by Hansen’s disease−as leprosy is known in Japan−and their families, and implemented measures to recover their honor and help them re-integrate into society.  

“I have a high hope that the message of this gathering towards an inclusive society will reach the entire world,” Mr. Abe said, expressing his wish that the event will provide “an opportunity for people around the world to develop a correct understanding of Hansen’s disease, and greatly eradicate prejudice and discrimination related to the disease in our thoughts and actions.”

Global Appeal 2020 was read out by Ms. Miki Matheson, a gold medalist at 1998 Nagano Paralympic Winter Games and now Project Manager at The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, and Mr. Yukinobu Ike, the captain of the Japanese Wheelchair Rugby Team.

Toward the end of the ceremony, I was truly moved by a special collaborative musical performance by two talented artists, the blind singer-songwriter Mr. Koshi Kishita, who is known as the Stevie Wonder of Japan, and Ms. Manami Ito, a Paralympian, nurse and violinist, who played using a specially-made prosthetic arm.  

Prior to the ceremony, the Sasakawa Health Foundation, The Nippon Foundation’s partner group, organized a roundtable discussion on the theme “Difference Is Natural,” as part of the events related to Global Appeal 2020.

Beginning in 2006, The Nippon Foundation has issued an annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy, joined each year by influential individuals and organizations on or near World Leprosy Day, which falls on the last Sunday of every January.

Its message is threefold: leprosy is curable, free treatment is available around the world, and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy has no place. Over the years, this message has been endorsed by political, business, academic and religious leaders around the world, among others.

I sincerely hope that the participants in the ceremony, including persons with disabilities and those affected by leprosy, as well as people around the world, will act together in aiming for an inclusive society and an end to stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.

       
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Global Appeal 2020 was read out by Ms. Miki Matheson (center right), Project Manager at The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, and Mr. Yukinobu Ike (center left), the captain of the Japanese Wheelchair Rugby Team.


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Mr. Koshi Kishita (left), the blind singer-songwriter who is known as the Stevie Wonder of Japan, singing “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by Mr. Ichiro Hashimoto, a sign language performer.



8.JPGMs. Manami Ito, a Paralympian, nurse and violinist, performs using a specially-made prosthetic right arm.   
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Global Appeal 2020 Calls on the World to End Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy (1) [2020年02月03日(Mon)]
I attended a ceremony held at a Tokyo hotel on January 27 in which The Nippon Foundation and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) jointly launched the 15th Global Appeal, asking people all over the world to “stand with persons affected by leprosy in calling for an end to stigma and discrimination” associated with the disease.

The annual ceremony brought together some 240 people, including persons affected by leprosy and their family members and those with disabilities, from Japan and overseas. It was also joined by such dignitaries as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato, Mr. Yoshiro Mori, former Prime Minister and now President of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Mr. Duane Kale, Vice President of the IPC.
 
Speaking as Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and the Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy, I said in my opening remarks: “I am convinced that the performance of Paralympians at the Tokyo Games will impress people around the globe and send an important message that the world must become an inclusive society.”

“In this Paralympic Year of 2020, we have been given truly powerful support and a wonderful opportunity to act with the International Paralympic Committee” to fight any kind of stigma and discrimination and aim for a society in which everyone is respected.  

IPC Vice President Kale said: “This summer, I have no doubt that Tokyo 2020 will deliver a spectacular Paralympic Games,” which will be watched by cumulative television audience of around 4.25 billion people.

“Difference is a strength and diversity should be celebrated. Every person on this planet should be free to live their lives with dignity and enjoy all his or her fundamental human rights,” he noted, adding: “In this special year when the eyes of the world will be on Tokyo, we are delighted to partner with The Nippon Foundation in issuing this historical appeal from the host city, calling for ending stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and supporting an inclusive society.”

Representing family members of leprosy patients was Mr. Chandra Prakash Kumar, who came from India to join the event. Based on his experience of being born and brought up in a leprosy colony, he stressed the importance of educating people, especially children, in order to remove stigma and discrimination against those affected by leprosy.

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Global Appeal 2020 was launched jointly by The Nippon Foundation and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) at a ceremony held in Tokyo on January 27, 2020, which was joined by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (front row, center) and Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato (front row, third from right).

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Making opening remarks at the ceremony.

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: “I have a high hope that the message of this gathering towards an inclusive society will reach the entire world.”

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Mr. Yoshiro Mori, former Prime Minister and now President of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.


(To be continued)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 16:19 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Message for World Leprosy Day 2020 from WHO Goodwill Ambassador [2020年01月29日(Wed)]
On the occasion of World Leprosy Day on January 26 2020, I issued a statement as WHO (World Health Organization) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, calling upon people all over the world to “have a correct understanding of leprosy and compassion toward those with the disease.”

“Today, through the efforts of many people, leprosy is an easily curable disease. The drugs are distributed free of charge. Early detection and treatment help prevent disability,” I stated.

But “there are still people suffering from the unwarranted discrimination that exists toward leprosy,” I noted, referring to the harsh lives they have had to endure−”abandoned by their families, isolated from society and deprived of their freedom.”

“New cases of leprosy are still being discovered in many countries and regions. But fearful of being diagnosed, people often do not go to a clinic or hospital because they think of leprosy as a shameful disease,” I pointed out, adding “this is one of the biggest obstacles to early diagnosis and treatment.”

“We have not only to fight the disease, but also the prejudice and discrimination that have infected society,” I said.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, “is not a disease of the past. It is an ongoing issue,” I said, inviting as many people as possible to join me on World Leprosy Day, which falls on the last Sunday of every January, “in thinking what we can do to make a difference to the lives of persons affected by leprosy.”

The full statement can be seen HERE.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:09 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation Ready to Support Bangladesh to Achieve Zero Leprosy by 2030 (2) [2019年12月19日(Thu)]

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With participants in the first-ever national conference of people affected by leprosy in Bangladesh, who gathered in Dhaka from around the Country.

On December 12, I participated in the country’s first ever conference of persons affected by leprosy, who traveled long distances from all over Bangladesh to the capital.

I told the participants I was very happy to see their faces and meet them for the first time. “You know the disease better than doctors. Your government is working to eliminate leprosy by 2030. And we are here to learn how we can help your government fight leprosy.”

I shared my experiences over the last 40 years, during which I have devoted myself to the struggle to eliminate leprosy and its associated stigma and discrimination from the world, visiting 120 countries on this mission. 

“No matter which country I visited, the plight of those affected by leprosy is the same,” I told them.

I said that the Bangladeshi “government has already announced the Zero Leprosy Initiative that will help eliminate the discrimination you have been facing,” assuring them of the two foundations’ continuing support for Bangladesh’s initiative to achieve zero leprosy by 2030.

During my stay in Dhaka, I also appeared on television together with Health Minister Maleque to speak directly to the people of Bangladesh. I stressed that there is an effective cure for leprosy, it is available for free, and that early diagnosis and prompt treatment can prevent physical impairment. 

In the early stage of the disease, I explained, there are hardly any noticeable symptoms except for painless, discolored skin patches, and this is one of the reasons behind delayed diagnosis. I urged viewers not to overlook these patches and check out their family members at home. 

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Yes, people in Bangladesh do love taking photos!

     3.jpg  Speaking with participants in the conference of persons affected by leprosy

 
4.jpg     Appearing on a live television show on Channel 1 from 5 p.m. on December 11, 2019

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I urged viewers to always check their family members for discolored skin patches, which are an early sign of leprosy.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation Ready to Support Bangladesh to Achieve Zero Leprosy by 2030 (1) [2019年12月17日(Tue)]
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Shaking hands with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (far left), who announced the Zero Leprosy Initiative aimed at eliminating leprosy in the country by 2030.


I visited Bangladesh from December 10 to 13 in my capacity as Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination to attend the National Leprosy Conference 2019 and the country’s first ever meeting of people affected by leprosy.

The National Leprosy Conference was held in the capital Dhaka on December 11 and brought together Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Health Minister Zahid Maleque as well as hundreds of health workers, medical professionals and a number of persons affected by leprosy.

The Nippon Foundation and its partner organization, the Sasakawa Health Foundation, organized the conference, which came about after I called on Prime Minister Hasina during my previous visit to the South Asian country in February this year and received her support.

“It is very reassuring−and pleasing−to receive such strong commitment from the country’s leader,” I said in my speech to the gathering, hailing the Prime Minister’s announcement of the Zero Leprosy Initiative aimed at eliminating leprosy in the country by 2030.

Due to the Bangladeshi government placing high priorities on measures against leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, the national prevalence of leprosy has been declining in recent years. 

Yet it is an undeniable reality that many new cases are still discovered nationwide today with about 4,000 patients newly detected per year over the last few years in Bangladesh.

“I urge everyone to work with each other to accelerate the actions needed to achieve Zero Leprosy in Bangladesh by 2030,” I stated, adding: “Both The Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation are ready to work with you.”

As our photographer was not allowed to carry a camera into the conference hall for security reasons, we have no photos of the National Leprosy Conference 2019. However, there are other photos that record my recent visit, as you can see in the next piece. 

Note: However, we have since received photos of the National Leprosy Conference 2019, which are now on this blog.

(1) 笹川会長スピーチ バングラ会議[7301].jpg

Addressing the National Leprosy Conference 2019 held in the capital Dhaka on December 11, 2019.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 13:22 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Let’s Unite for “Zero Leprosy” [2019年09月25日(Wed)]

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Group photo with participants of the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, in Manila, on September 9, 2019.



During my recent visit to Manila to attend key international conferences on leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, I called on participants, including academics, medical stakeholders and those affected by the disease, to unite toward the goal of “Zero Leprosy,” a historical challenge for humankind.


I first spoke at the Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease on September 9 and then at the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC) on September 11 in my capacity as Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.


The Global Forum, organized by The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and its sister organization, the Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF), brought together some 60 representatives of organizations of persons affected by leprosy from 23 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. 


In my remarks, I enthusiastically welcomed their participation in the forum, thanked them for sharing their experience of the disease, and underlined the important role they can play in tackling stigma and discrimination.


I called on them to urge their governments to fully implement the UN General Assembly resolution and accompanying principle and guidelines unanimously adopted in 2010 on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. From the time TNF and SHF started to raise the leprosy issue as a human rights problem at the UN, it took seven hard years of lobbying and the efforts of many stakeholders before the resolution was adopted.


The delegates to the Global Forum then attended the subsequent ILC, hosted by the Philippine Department of Health, where a person affected by leprosy from the Philippines presented the forum’s conclusions and recommendations based on the preceding four days of discussions.


In my address to the ILC, I shared my experiences over the last 40 years, during which I have devoted myself to the struggle to eliminate leprosy and its associated stigma and discrimination from the world, visiting 120 countries and regions. And meeting with 150 national leaders and countless numbers of those affected by leprosy.


Noting the contribution to date of many individuals and organizations that have worked hard for the elimination of leprosy, I heartily welcomed the formation last year of a new coalition of stakeholders, the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy. I believe that this collaboration will greatly enhance our work toward achieving “Zero Leprosy.” 


Taking this into account, I expressed my opposition to leprosy being considered as one of “the Neglected Tropical Diseases.” “Leprosy has never been neglected even for a moment by both persons affected and by people who have worked hard for their betterment. In my opinion, this medical terminology feels like it is looking down on the patients and also shows lack of respect towards those who are still fighting against leprosy today.” 


Leprosy is an ongoing issue and there is still much work to be done. To medical stakeholders who attended the congress, I requested that they continue working on discovering the causes of transmission of leprosy, developing a vaccine, and creating prosthetics and orthotics for those with impairments. I also noted that with globalization and migration, there are new cases, even in countries that used to see few cases. “However, the number of leprosy medical specialists is decreasing rapidly worldwide.”


During my stay in Manila, I also had the extraordinary honor to be conferred the prestigious degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, by Father Jose Ramon T. Villarin, S.J., President of the Ateneo de Manila University of the Philippines, for my lifes work against leprosy.


I receive this degree together with all those who have worked with me. Now, I am encouraged to take even further action in my remaining years,” I said at the 2019 Traditional University Awards of the Ateneo de Manila University.



3.jpgSpeaking at the 20th International Leprosy Congress (ILC) in Manila, on September 11, 2019.



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Receiving the degree Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, from Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin, S.J., President of Ateneo de Manila University,in Manila on September 10, 2019.



Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 11:10 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The “Brazilian Trump”? My live Facebook broadcast with President Bolsonaro [2019年07月11日(Thu)]

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Meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro (July 8, 2019, Brasilia, Brazil)


I have just returned from a two-week trip to Brazil, which I visited in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. I traveled to different parts of the country, meeting with political leaders, health officials and others to request their further cooperation and commitment to eliminating Hansen’s disease, as leprosy is called in Brazil.


On July 8, I had the honor of meeting President Jair Bolsonaro in Brasilia, the federal capital. A former military officer, the president is handsome, like an actor.


I told him that Brazil has the second highest number of cases of Hansen’s disease in the world after India, and that it needs to make further efforts against the disease. At this, the president suggested that we reach out to the nation right away. He took his mobile phone from his jacket and started a live broadcast on Facebook.

                                         

During the live broadcast, he firmly stated that “Hansen’s disease is an issue that the government of Brazil needs to be involved in. We will work with Mr. Sasakawa.”


I was also invited to speak. Stressing the importance of early detection, I called for Brazil to aim for “zero Hansen’s disease.”


The 13-minute-long video has since been viewed more than 650,000 times and attracted over 18,000 comments.


People say that President Bolsonaro won the election by harnessing the power of social media. His stance on various issues, his brash statements as well as his use of social media have led to comparisons with US President Donald Trump.Nevertheless, I was left amazed by his swift action and improvisation.


During the live broadcast, he asked for comments from the Minister of Health, the Minister of Human Rights, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who were also present. I described him above as having an actor’s good looks, but seeing the way he handled himself during the broadcast, he reminded me more of the emcee of a TV show.


As I watched the president of Brazil in action−the president of the largest country in Latin America with a population of more than 200 million people−I felt I understood how social media is the key to fundamental political change.


[The President's Live Broadcast Available HERE]


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Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 16:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Empress Michiko Guided Me to Life-Long Mission to Eliminate Leprosy [2019年07月08日(Mon)]

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko receive eight persons affected by leprosy from six countries in January 2015.


In January 2015, The Nippon Foundation hosted an event in Tokyo to launch the 10th Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy.  Two weeks earlier, I had called at the Imperial Palace to brief Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko (now the emperor emeritus and empress emerita following Emperor Akihito’s abdication at the end of April) about the disease.


We met in a small room in the Fukiage Omiya Palace within the Imperial Palace compound. The briefing session, originally scheduled for 15 minutes, lasted more than an hour. The imperial couple asked many questions and amazed me with their knowledge of the disease.


For example, the emperor asked me about promin, the first drug found to be effective against leprosy when it was used at Carville leprosarium in the United States in the early 1940s, and later synthesized in Japan. The empress wanted to know: "Why can’t Brazil eliminate leprosy?” referring to the fact that Brazil is the only country other than some small island states yet to achieve the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem as defined by the WHO.


In fact, the former emperor and the empress have visited all 14 national and privately-operated leprosy sanatoriums in Japan to meet with and offer encouragement to those affected by the disease.  Historically, the Japanese imperial family’s engagement with leprosy dates back to the Nara era (710-794) when Empress Komyo established Hiden-in and Seyaku-in−temples for dispensing, respectively, alms and medicines to the poor, including leprosy patients. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko inherited this tradition of compassion toward those with the disease.


What struck me most during the session was a question Empress Michiko asked me. "How about the situation in South Korea?" I explained that there were no longer cases of the disease among the local population, just the occasional foreign-born case. The empress said she was pleased to hear that and then told me a story I had not expected.

Some 40 years earlier, when she was the crown princess, she had received a letter from a Catholic nun in South Korea who cared for leprosy patients there and described the appalling conditions in which they lived.


Crown Princess Michiko shared the letter with then Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Masahide Kanayama, asking for his help.


I was astonished to hear the name of Ambassador Kanayama.  He was the man who visited my late father Ryoichi Sasakawa in the early 1970s, telling him about the dire situation of leprosy patients in South Korea. I was present when they met.


It was this meeting that led my father to build a leprosy hospital in that country. When he went to visit it, I accompanied him. It was my first encounter with persons affected by leprosy.  Many had severely deformed hands, feet and faces.  But what shocked me more was that, without exception, they all failed to show any trace of human expression.


I saw my father take each patient’s hands in his own, speak to them and offer them words of encouragement. It was there and then that I resolved to devote my life to the elimination of leprosy. In other words, it was the meeting between the empress and Ambassador Kanayama that would lead me on a life-long mission to pursue a world free of leprosy.


During the briefing at the Imperial Palace in 2015, I asked the emperor and the empress if they would kindly meet with persons affected by leprosy who would be attending the launch of the Global Appeal in Tokyo, and they graciously assented.


Two weeks later, I escorted eight persons affected by leprosy from six counties − Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and the United States − to a meeting at the Fukiage Omiya Palace. The imperial couple, after offering words of greeting, approached the eight. Taking their hands, they talked to each of them in turn, treating them as equal human beings. Having experienced being abandoned by society and even their own families in some cases, the visitors were deeply moved by the imperial couples tenderness.


As I recall their majesties' warmth toward those affected by leprosy, I am determined to redouble my efforts in the global fight against leprosy as Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.


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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko receive eight persons affected by leprosy from six countries in January 2015.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
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