Receiving Gandhi Peace Prize from President Kovind and Prime Minister Modi(New Delhi, India, February 26, 2019)
It was an extraordinary honor for me to receive the 2018 Gandhi Peace Prize for my contribution to the ongoing work to eliminate leprosy from India and the world in this memorable year, which marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
During a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, or the Presidential Palace, in New Delhi on February 26, I humbly accepted the award from President Ram Nath Kovind, believing that the jury under chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi awarded me the prize on behalf of all who have been working together to eliminate leprosy and improve the lives of persons affected by the disease.
It was also a great pleasure for me to become the first Japanese to receive this prestigious peace prize.
For more than forty years, I have been carrying on a mission to eliminateleprosy as a disease and to fight stigma and discrimination associated with it.
In my capacity as World Health Organization (WHO) Goodwill Ambassadorfor Leprosy Elimination, I have traveled all over the world, meeting with men, women and children affected by leprosy as well as the leaders of central and local governments and other stakeholders.
From the early 1980’s, a highly effective new treatment in the form of multi-drug therapy (MDT) was developed. This was made available for free by The Nippon Foundation for five years from 1995 to 1999, helping to contribute to a dramatic decline in the number of leprosy cases in the world.
However, 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.
To cope with this reality, the Indian Government under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Modi has set an ambitious goal of eradicating leprosy in the country by the year 2030.
As WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Elimination of Leprosy, I welcome this goal. To achieve this goal, the Indian Government has intensified case-finding and awareness-raising activities to detect and treat new cases early.
Given the persistent stigma and discrimination associated with the disease, life remains difficult even for those who have been cured.
That is why leprosy has to be tackled in a dual manner where curing the disease and tackling social discrimination are dealt with together.
To use an analogy of the two wheels of a motorcycle, the front wheel represents our efforts against the disease and the back wheel our efforts against discrimination. Unless both wheels turn at the same time, we won’t make progress.
In 2006, The Nippon Foundation initiated an annual “Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy” on or near World Leprosy Day.
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, among others.
This year on January 30, the 14th “Global Appeal” was launched together with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the world’s largest business organization, at a meeting in New Delhi.
The Nippon Foundation and the ICC uphold the principle that no one should be denied the opportunity to work because of stigma and discrimination. As the 45 million member companies of the ICC share this principle, I hope the awareness that everyone deserves a chance to fulfill his or her potential will spread around the globe, and lead to increased employment opportunities for persons affected by leprosy.
We all want to see a world without leprosy and the stigma and discrimination it causes, and I hope India will lead the way by achieving the ambitious goal it has set. Leprosy is a curable disease.
If we all have a strong will to do our part, a world free of leprosy and the stigma and discrimination against it is not an impossible dream.
*My speech at the ceremony is available HERE.