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Yohei Sasakawa
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The Drive to Root Out Leprosy in Malawi [2012年02月18日(Sat)]
The Drive to Root Out Leprosy in Malawi

National Sanatorium Suruga is one of 13 national facilities for leprosy in Japan. Founded as a leprosarium for wounded soldiers in June 1945, it was settled and built by people with a relatively mild form of the disease, who were brought in from Tama Zenshōen in Tokyo, Okukōmyōen and Nagashima Aiseien in Okayama Prefecture, Kikuchi Keifūen in Kumamoto Prefecture, Matsuoka Hoyōen in Aomori Prefecture, and Tōhoku Shinseien in Miyagi Prefecture. According to one account from the time, “convalescence” was not what awaited the early residents, who “engaged in construction work in extremely harsh conditions.” At present, 86 men and women, averaging 80.7 years of age, live in the sanatorium. The following article was carried in the fall 2011 issue of National Sanatorium Suruga’s newsletter.


From July 13 to July 16, 2011, I traveled to Malawi in the southeastern part of Africa. This was my second visit there; my first was made 11 years ago, in 2000.

Malawi is a relatively small African country, with 15 million people inhabiting 118,000 square kilometers of land (roughly equivalent to the size of Hokkaidō and Kyūshū combined). Lake Malawi occupies a fifth of the total area and is home to many species of tropical fish and other living creatures.

Malawi is a peaceful, orderly society that has known neither civil war nor a coup d’etat since its independence from Britain in 1964. Many people call it the “warm heart of Africa” because of the warmth and friendliness of the people. About 75% of the population is Christian, and the official languages are English and Chichewa. Agriculture is the main industry, and the major crops include leaf tobacco, coffee, tea, cotton, and sugar. About 85% of the population is engaged in farming. In recent years, the economy has grown rapidly , but per capita gross national income is still just $290, and Malawi remains one of the least developed countries in the world.

In 1994 the national prevalence rate of leprosy in Malawi fell below 1 per 10,000 population, the level at which the condition is considered “eliminated,” meaning that the disease is no longer a public health problem. Locally, the rate continues to be above that level in 4 of 26 districts. In 2010, 321 people were diagnosed with the disease, and the national prevalence rate was 0.5 in 10,000.

My trip to Malawi was prompted when I heard that because leprosy is no longer a high priority in the country’s health administration programs, accurate patient data is no longer being collected and distributed, health authorities have stopped making regular visits to the districts to monitor and supervise the situation, health workers are not being educated sufficiently on the disease, and medium- and long-term strategies are not being formulated. I was also told that
the country does not have the human resources, funds, and supplies to implement necessary policies. Based on this information, I resolved to visit Malawi and do whatever I could to get the government to commit itself to the disease’s eradication.

I arrived at Lilongwe International Airport on the afternoon of July 13. Since July is winter in Malawi and Lilongwe is located about 1,000 meters above sea level, the weather felt chilly, a contrast to the fierce heat and humidity in Japan. I was met at the airport by Dr. Storn Kabuluzi, the director of the Preventive Health Unit of the Malawi Ministry of Health, Dr. Kelias Msyamboza, the national professional officer of the World Health Organization’s Malawi office, Dr. Landry Bide, the officer in charge of leprosy at WHO’s Regional Office for Africa in the Republic of Congo, and Dr. ??? Shimizu , the officer in charge of tropical diseases at the same office.

As I was being welcomed at the airport, I noticed that the Nippon Foundation personnel who accompanied me seemed worried about something. As it turns out, nine of our ten bags were lost in transit. I have made many trips to Africa, but this is the first time that not two or three but nearly all of our bags were lost.

Before leaving the airport, I was interviewed by a local TV station. Asked why I came, I said that although leprosy had been eliminated as a public health issue, there was still work to be done to completely eradicate it and overcome the discriminatory attitudes toward people affected by it. I ended by stating my hope that a correct understanding of the disease could be disseminated among the public (including the fact that it is treatable and that medication can be obtained free of charge), and also emphasized that discrimination against patients should not be condoned.

That evening, Professor David Mphande, minister of health, hosted a dinner party for me at the hotel where I was staying, and we spoke about the situation in Malawi regarding leprosy. I first made the acquaintance of Professor Mphande in May 2011 at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, and he gave me a very warm welcome in Malawi. I was happy to learn that he very much liked a CD I gave him during our first meeting, featuring performances on the Stradivarius violins that are owned by the Nippon Music Foundation and loaned for free to aspiring young musicians. He also commented on the Sasakawa Global 2000 initiative to increase food production, which is popularly known as the “Sasakawa method.”

Malawi was one of the first countries to attain the elimination target for leprosy, and today there are far fewer Malawians suffering from this condition than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. It was clear from what he told me that the government continues to give it top priority and is taking steps towards its complete eradication. I expressed my respect for the initiatives taken while also underscoring the importance of both rooting out the disease and the discriminatory attitudes toward it.

The following day, July 14, we drove from Lilongwe to Balaka District, a roughly 230-kilometer, three-hour journey, to visit a leprosy colony in Utale.


A visit to a leprosy colony in Utale

On the way to Balaka, we passed stretches of land and mountains, trees and fields, and villages, and I was able to get a glimpse of how the people there live. Most of the houses had brick walls and a thatched roof. Power lines were rare. In reality 90% of all communities are not hooked up to the grid, and most people live without electricity and running water.

Balaka is a relatively small district with a population of 340,000. It has 31 registered leprosy patients (as of 2010) and a prevalence rate of 0.9 per 10,000 people, somewhat higher than other parts of the country. Utale, our destination, is a village in Balaka where leprosy patients and those who have recovered from the disease live.

The rehabilitation center was founded in 1946 as an isolation sanatorium by French Catholic missionaries , who had lived in the country since the 1920s. It is the only one of five leprosariums built at the time that is still open today. At present, 34 people live in the facility, and 43 others live outside it in the village. With the support of the church, Father Francis Kachere, who runs the center, plays a central role in building new houses and securing food supplies for the village, making it one of the best run communities of its kind in Africa.

While there, I had an opportunity to get to speak with individuals who have been affected by leprosy .


Chatting with patients at the colony

Young people diagnosed with leprosy generally do not end up with a disability because of early diagnosis and treatment. By contrast, the older people there tended to have a physical disability on their hands or feet, or a sight or hearing impediment. Many of these people had children or grandchildren, though, and were upbeat on the whole despite the difficulties they have faced.

This was not true of everyone, however. One older woman told me she fled neighboring Mozambique, where a civil war was being fought, and came to Malawi alone. Apparently, when her family found out she had leprosy, she was abandoned and, with nowhere left to go, she came to Utale. This woman had to endure the humiliation of discrimination on top of the disease and had suffered severe emotional trauma as a result. The experience strengthened my own resolve to continue fighting discrimination.

The history of humankind seems to be a cycle of discrimination against fellow men and women. Changing the way people think and act won’t be easy. But by making use of the media and connecting with government officials, as I did on my trip, it may be possible to educate the public about the facts.

On July 15 I held a joint press conference with Professor Mphande, the health minister of Malawi. Staff from 15 television and radio stations, newspapers, and other media outlets attended the event. I started off by reiterating my hope for a better understanding of leprosy among the people of Malawi, and I recounted my impressions of the rehabilitation center in Utale. While praising the Malawian government’s success in reaching the elimination goal in 1994, I noted that there had been a slight rise in the number of patients in recent years and expressed my hope that Malawi would find a way to completely eradicate the disease through its initiatives.

Health Minister Mphande stated that leprosy had been regarded by the Health Ministry as a top public-health priority for many years, and he described the initiatives taken to eliminate it. He added that though the number of patients was low, he was committed to doing what he could, from a humanistic perspective to bring down the total to zero.

My trip to Malawi made me realize that reaching the elimination target was one milepost but not the final goal, and that our next target−of further reducing the number of patients−will require steadfast dedication. I also reacquainted myself with the importance of educating the public and creating a base in society so that people with leprosy can return to the community and live their lives with dignity.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:06 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The Japanese Association of Peru:Visit to Peru (2) [2012年02月15日(Wed)]

Members of the Japanese Association of Peru. Luis Uemura, chairman of the association, is to my left, and Heraldo Marui to my right.

The Japanese Association of Peru:
Visit to Peru (2)

Located in central western South America, Peru is bordered by Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. The country is divided into three distinct geographical areas: the coastal desert that includes the capital, Lima; the highlands, across which the Andes Mountains are spread; and the Amazon basin. I once made a helicopter excursion with Peru’s president at the time, Alberto Fujimori, to the city of Cusco, which served as the capital of the Inca empire, and to Machu Picchu, a UNESCO world heritage site situated on a mountain ridge, in order to distribute clothing to the needy.

Peru has a population of around 30 million, spread over an area 3.4 times larger than Japan. Around 110 years ago, Japanese began to immigrate to Peru, and today some 90,000 people of Japanese descent live and work there. Japanese Peruvians form one of the closest knit overseas Japanese communities in the world, and they undertake various philanthropic activities, including the management of a highly regarded hospital and the establishment of a Japanese cultural center. One individual who has been a force in the community is Luis Uemura, chairman of the Japanese Association of Peru.

Despite the late hour of my arrival, Uemura and other association officers, along with the Heraldo Marui, former director of the Clinica Centenario Peruano Japonesa (Hospital of the 100th Anniversary of Japanese Migration to Peru) kindly met me at the airport.

Despite its limited funds, the association presented me with a $50,000 donation to be used for the Great East Japan Earthquake relief work.

My trip this time included a visit to the newly refurbished Museum of Japanese Immigration. A New Year’s party was held in the evening, with about 300 people in attendance. The celebrations included a ceremonial breaking open of the lid of a barrel of sake with wooden mallets. The guests also helped make rice cakes, taking turns pounding the steamed rice in the mortar three times each. One of the guests pounded the rice with so much force that the mallet broke, which got everybody laughing and made the atmosphere even more festive. Although I had intended to eat at the hotel, I canceled my reservation and instead indulged in the delicious New Year’s dishes the Women’s Association worked so hard to prepare . Old Japanese traditions have been carefully preserved in this distant land, and I spent an enjoyable evening with people in whom the spirit of old Japan was still very much alive.

During a ceremony in 2011 to mark the completion of a hospital funded by the Nippon Foundation, then President Alan Garcia apologized for the Peruvian government’s harsh treatment during World War II of Peruvians of Japanese descent, becoming the first leader of his country to do so. The hospital has built up an excellent reputation because it uses state-of-the-art medical equipment to treat both Japanese Peruvians and other Peruvians. The doctors, nurses and office staff are highly trained and very professional in their manner.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 08:28 | URL | comment(0)
Speaking to the WHO Leprosy Program Managers in Manila [2012年02月13日(Mon)]
Speaking to the WHO Leprosy Program Managers in Manila

In February I had the chance to visit the Philippines to speak before some key people pursuing solutions to leprosy-related issues. This was a regional meeting of national managers in the World Health Organization’s National Leprosy Programme, held in Manila thanks to efforts by the WHO and the Culion Foundation, an NGO in the Philippines actively tackling leprosy issues.

As I noted in my speech there, we are close to a milestone goal in the battle against leprosy, namely the reduction of leprosy cases to 1 per 10,000 population worldwide. This does not mean we will no longer face challenges, though. We will need to continue working on the social stigma associated with the disease, its economic impact on leprosy-affected individuals, and other related problems.

You can read the transcript of my speech here on our website. I hope you will keep in mind the challenges we have still to overcome in the field of leprosy.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 14:49 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Make Good Use of Dormant Account Money [2012年02月10日(Fri)]
Make Good Use of Dormant Account Money

I think it may be possible to mobilize public opinion to back a plan on utilizing the funds from dormant bank accounts. This is the topic I addressed in my opinion piece published in Sankei Shimbun, reprinted below.

A dormant account is a savings account that has not been used for an extended period of time. Most people who work in banking and finance know of the existence of these accounts, but few realize that the money in them is ultimately absorbed as profit by financial institutions. Savings in dormant accounts and accounts opened using an alias, which was legal until 2002, is believed to total well above 100 billion yen (1.2 billion dollars), thus offering a potential “hidden reserve.” In Britain and South Korea, funds have been set up to use the money from dormant accounts to support a range of social welfare programs. Japan should create a similar system as soon as possible.

A New Hidden Reserve
Most dormant accounts are low-balance accounts with less than 10,000 yen (120 dollars) opened by people before they were married. However, there are also a large number of high-balance accounts. A number of years ago, postal savings accounts bearing the names of animals as the account holders were a hot topic in the newspapers.

In Japan, savings accounts are classified as “dormant” when no deposits or withdrawals have been made from them in five to ten years. After the specified number of years elapses, notification is sent to the account holder and the savings becomes the property of the financial institution. Reclaiming money in an account is not easy. The account holder must submit the bankbook and name seal used to open the account, identify the branch name, and go through other troublesome procedures.

When the address of the account holder cannot be verified or no forwarding address exists, as is true in the case of alias accounts, the remaining money becomes the property of the financial institution.

Dormant accounts are found in all countries. The period of time before an account is classified as dormant ranges from three to seven years in the United States, depending on the state; seven years in Australia; and up to ten years in Canada. In countries where the savings become the property of the bank or other financial institution, serious concerns have been raised as to the propriety of this and various strategies have been devised to deal with the problem.

Britain, for example, established a fund in 2010 with the savings from accounts in which no transactions had been made during the past 15 years. It is now making available 53.0 billion yen (636 million dollars) for projects run by nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs. South Korea, meanwhile, established a foundation in 2008 through donations of money from dormant bank and postal savings accounts; and about 14.0 billion yen (168 million dollars) is being used to fund welfare programs with these funds.

Changes are underway in Japan, too. At the end of 2009, Hiroki Komazaki, chairman of Florence, a nonprofit organization founded to assist working parents, proposed that a fund be set up with dormant account money at as early a date as possible. In January 2011, Yasuo Tanaka of the New Party Japan remarked during a House of Representatives session that “legislation must be revised so that the funds in dormant accounts can be transferred from financial institutions to the central government.” Prime Minister Naoto Kan then voiced agreement, saying that this ”is one way the money could be used” and that he would “like the opposition parties to also consider the idea.”

Hundreds of Billions of Idle Yen
According to the Financial Services Bureau, Japan’s three megabanks, including the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, absorbed 24.2 billion yen (290 million dollars) as profit from dormant accounts in fiscal 2008 (April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009) and 30.3 billion yen (363.7 million) in fiscal 2009. Of the total among these three institutions, about 40% was claimed by account holders and returned. Not even the Japanese Bankers Association knows how much the nationwide total is, however. A number of experts, including Komazaki, have put the figure at close to 100 billion yen (1.2 billion dollars), but I believe it may be two or three times that amount if money in alias bank and postal accounts is included.

The establishment of a fund for dormant account money is now being considered by the Cabinet Office’s Council for the Promotion of the New Public Commons. The Japanese Bankers Association and six other federations have submitted documents to the council expressing their opposition, maintaining that allowing funds to be transferred out of banks and other institutions without the consent of the account holders would damage the credibility of the finance system.

Their argument, however, is mere sophistry. Most of the money in dormant accounts is the property of individual account holders, and it is hard to justify its absorption by financial institutions.

The Great East Japan Earthquake left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. Banks have set up desks to answer questions of the people in the affected areas. It would be an affront to people whose lives were cut short by the tragedy if the savings accounts they used regularly up until the earthquake ultimately ended up as dormant accounts.

As of June 2011, Japan’s national debt stood at 943 trillion yen (11.3 trillion dollars). The country is on the brink of financial collapse. As the pool of available funds dries up, it will be necessary to use what we have more effectively, uncover hidden resources, and shift some of the burden from the public to the private sector in order to maintain and improve welfare and community services.

The Finance Industry’s Social Responsibility
Though I do not wish to sound as if I am blowing my own horn, I would like to note that after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Nippon Foundation distributed money to people who lost loved ones, launched 18 FM stations to air disaster-related broadcasts, built temporary housing for people with disabilities, provided support for 700 NPOs, and dispatched student volunteers to the area. Central and local governments are bound by various legal restrictions, which hinder the speed with which their programs can be instituted. The private sector has much more flexibility and can work more quickly. All we need is a system in place for using dormant account money, since we already have the know-how to make use of the funds.

The Financial Services Bureau should stop allowing financial institutions to classify dormant account funds as profit at the end of each fiscal year, and make public the details on how much money is in postal and bank accounts, including alias accounts.

Finance is the lifeblood of the state and a public matter. This is why public funds have been used to overcome financial crises. I am certain that a move to use the money in dormant accounts for the public good rather than let it become the profit of individual banks will foster greater public appreciation of the finance industry’s corporate social responsibility and make it easier to gaining the approval of savers.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 08:01 | URL | comment(0)
A Chance to Speak to India’s State Leprosy Officers [2012年02月09日(Thu)]
A Chance to Speak to India’s State Leprosy Officers

In 2005, the nation of India achieved the target set by the World Health Organization of reducing the number of leprosy cases to below 1 in 10,000 population. This was a great achievement, and everyone involved in bringing it about deserves praise for helping to do away with leprosy as a public health problem.

This does not mean, of course, that we are in a world without leprosy today. It is vital to ensure that reaching this milestone goal in countries around the globe does not lead those countries to ease off in their fight against the disease and against the social and economic issues associated with it.

This was the gist of a speech I presented to the state leprosy officers of India, who gathered in the city of Goa on February 9 for a two-day conference. You can read my comments here on our website.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:03 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
1st International Symposium: Hansen’s Disease and Human Rights [2012年02月09日(Thu)]
1st International Symposium: Hansen’s Disease and Human Rights

Our first international symposium “Hansen’s Disease and Human Rights” was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 1 of this year. I wrote an address that was read out to participants on the day of the event.

In my address, I recalled how my first encounter with people affected by Hansen’s disease (commonly known as leprosy) was 45 years ago, in South Korea. That meeting gave me a keen sense of the sorrow and alienation among those people.

Since then, I have been doing my best to contribute to the effort to end the discrimination directed to persons affected by the disease.

Part of this effort, as I explained, involves revising whatever discriminatory laws or institutions that remain in place. But that alone is not enough: we also need to work to uproot the discriminatory customs and practices that have been deeply embedded in society for centuries and will not disappear right away.

An enormous amount of progress has been made toward this goal over the past 50 years or so, thanks to the efforts of governments, NGOs, and countless individuals. People affected with the disease are not asking for charity, but rather the opportunity to realize their individual potential and live a life of dignity.

An English transcript of my message to the symposium are available at the Nippon Foundation website and I encourage you to take a look.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Opening Remarks at Global Appeal 2012 [2012年02月08日(Wed)]
Opening Remarks at Global Appeal 2012

Our 7th Global Appeal event was held in São Paulo on January 30. As some of you may know, we have been holding the Global Appeal every year since 2006 as a way to overcome the stigma and discrimination that have made life miserable for so many people affected by leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease).

I was unable to personally attend the event, for health reasons, but the opening remarks that I had written were read out to the participants. In my message, I reviewed the progress that has been made in treating the disease, which is now curable. I also noted the crucial work that remains to be done in correcting misconceptions about the disease that underlie the tragic discrimination against the people affected by leprosy and their family members.

One point I tried to emphasize in my remarks is that we need to increase the awareness of the discrimination and prejudice that exists against those affected by the disease as the first step in tearing down what I called the “invisible wall” that has tormented their lives.

An English transcript of my opening remarks is available at the Nippon Foundation website.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)