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Yohei Sasakawa
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No Way Will Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics Be Cancelled This Summer [2021年02月25日(Thu)]
On February 18, then-Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto, who has competed in seven Olympics, four in the winter and three in the summer, was named president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games after a meeting of its executive board.
She replaced Mr. Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister who resigned following sexist comments, and was in turn succeeded as Olympics minister by Ms.Tamayo Marukawa.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach welcomed Ms. Hashimoto’s appointment as "the perfect choice" for the job.

Leaders of the Group of Seven countries, meeting at a virtual summit on February 19, said in a joint statement: “We support the commitment of Japan to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner this summer as a symbol of global unity in overcoming COVID-19.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after the meeting: “I was able to gain support from all the leaders. It was so encouraging.”
The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were originally slated for the summer of 2020 but were rescheduled to start on July 23 and August 24, 2021, respectively, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

With the new Olympics chief in place and the G7 endorsement, all-out efforts are going to be made over the coming five months to prepare for the games this summer. Some self-proclaimed experts forecast the games would be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I want them to refrain from making such half-baked predictions.

In the long history of the Olympics, there have been a few cases in which the games were scaled back due to political issues, while two were cancelled during World War II.

But this time around, we are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. No wonder everybody is confused, including the games’ organizers. We need to figure out what to do from various perspectives, including how we can invite athletes from all over the world and hold the games without spectators, if necessary.

Now that the IOC, the Tokyo Organizing Committee, and the Tokyo metropolitan and Japanese governments have committed to holding the games this summer, it is important more than anything just to get on with the preparations in a positive and resolute manner. Japan is a peaceful country; we still have enough time.

Those who supported holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo and all those Olympians who have worked for years getting ready to compete are watching closely to see what will happen.
It is easy to raise objections. But it is crucial now for all Japanese to demonstrate to the world that we are pulling out all the stops to prepare for the games. That is the mission of the host nation, and it provides Japan with a golden opportunity to impress upon the world that it is a country that can be relied upon, one that values courtesy and the spirit of “omotenashi,” or selfless hospitality.
It is my sincere hope that in 50 to 100 years from now, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be marked in history as events Japan managed to host under the most challenging of circumstances. Let’s stop making facile comments and unite in a final effort to realize the games this summer.
Flipchart Launched to Beef Up Fight Against Leprosy in India [2021年02月18日(Thu)]
With ASHA s (Accredited Social Health Activists) in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, India, at a ceremony in February 2020 to start distributing flip charts to educate people on early detection of leprosy.

India observed its Anti-Leprosy Day on January 30 to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s care and compassion for persons affected by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, and to promote activities against the disease while advocating inclusion and rejecting discrimination.

According to the most recent update from WHO, India diagnosed 114,451 new cases of leprosy in 2019, the highest of any country and accounting for about 56% of the global total of 202,189.

I have visited India more than 60 times as chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination to support the South Asian country’s fight against the disease.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government of India is committed to achieving the ambitious goal of making the country free of leprosy, and the stigma and discrimination associated with it by 2030.

On India’s Anti-Leprosy Day this year, I welcomed the launch of a pictorial flipchart designed to assist ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) in educating people on the importance of early detection of leprosy.

Produced jointly by the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and WHO India, about 310,000 copies of the flipchart printed in the Hindi, Gujarati, Oriya, and Bengali languages are being delivered to ASHAs in six leprosy-endemic states. Of the six, distribution has already been completed in Gujarat, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, with distribution in West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand planned for completion by 2022.

ASHAs are female community health workers whose training includes how to recognize symptoms of leprosy. Visiting house to house, they refer people with signs and symptoms of leprosy to the nearest government health facility. They thus play a crucial role in early diagnosis, which helps prevent disability and ensure a complete cure.

“The activities done by ASHAs are a key to achieve a leprosy-free India, a dream of Mahatma Gandhi, and I hope this flipchart can be of help for their activities,” I said in commenting on the launch.   

The news has drawn keen attention in India where more than 120 news outlets reported on it.

WHO India has produced a short video that shows in an easy-to-understand way how to use the flipchart effectively. I hope it will be seen by all 800,000 ASHAs across India.

Lack of public awareness about leprosy is one of the major problems that India is facing in its efforts against the disease. These pictorial learning materials will help ASHAs in their work, promote a correct understanding of the disease in the community, and encourage people to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms. I look forward to seeing the impact they have.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:05 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
My Message for World Leprosy Day 2021 [2021年02月15日(Mon)]

On the eve of this year’s World Leprosy Day, or World Hansen’s Disease Day, on January 31, 2021, I posted a message in my capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination on the WHO website. My message, which focused on why we must still pay attention to leprosy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was picked up by news organizations in different countries. Meanwhile, two short video messages I posted on social media−one addressing persons affected by Hansen’s disease and the other directed at the general public−have together been viewed more than 3 million times.

Allow me to share with you here the full text of my message for World Leprosy Day 2021, which you can also find on the WHO website.

[text of message]
Over the past year, the headlines have been dominated by COVID-19. It is easy to overlook other diseases, especially a disease such as leprosy that many people think is a disease of the past.

But leprosy requires our attention. There are still some 200,000 new cases diagnosed worldwide each year. Millions of people are living with some form of disability as a result of leprosy.

Both the label “leprosy” and the disability that can result if this age-old disease goes untreated can lead to social exclusion. Persons affected by leprosy continue to face discrimination, reinforced in some countries by outdated laws that make leprosy grounds for divorce, prevent people with the disease from participating in public life or place other restrictions on their activities.

As WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I have seen for myself how leprosy has marginalized individuals. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to the social and economic consequences of the disease.

Overcoming leprosy involves more than early diagnosis and prompt treatment. It also requires changing mindsets so that leprosy is no longer a source of shame or prejudice. We must remove all barriers in the way of those seeking medical care. We must eliminate the obstacles that prevent affected individuals and their families from living in dignity and enjoying all their basic human rights as full members of society.

I often talk about leprosy in terms of a motorcycle. 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.

As I survey the road ahead, I am confident we are moving in the right direction: the WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy for 2021-2030 will generate renewed momentum; organizations of persons affected by leprosy are becoming more influential, and their calls for change more powerful; and the UN Special Rapporteur on leprosy is working tirelessly to see that principles and guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members are fully implemented.

I believe we will achieve a world without leprosy one day. But along the way, we need to realize an inclusive society in which everyone has access to quality treatment and services, and a diagnosis of leprosy no longer comes with a possibility of devastating physical, social, economic or psychological consequences.

Compared to other diseases, leprosy may only affect a small number of people, but we are all responsible for building an inclusive world.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:22 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Global Appeal 2021 Urges World to Uphold “Right to Work” of Persons Affected by Leprosy (2) [2021年02月10日(Wed)]
The webinar on “Zero Leprosy for Whom in the Post-COVID World?”

It was in 2006 that I initiated the Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy. The annual appeal is issued on or near World Leprosy Day, which falls on the last Sunday of January. It calls for an end to the unwarranted discrimination that persons affected by leprosy continue to face and aims to spread awareness of this issue.

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, among others, political, business, academic and religious leaders around the world.

In conjunction with Global Appeal 2021, Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative (SLI) organized a four-part webinar taking place over four days in the week leading up to World Leprosy Day on January 31. “Zero Leprosy for Whom in the Post-COVID World?” was intended to highlight why leprosy still requires our attention and what needs to happen if we are to achieve a world without leprosy and its accompanying challenges.

In a video message I contributed for day one, I said I was very happy that 22 organizations of people affected by leprosy−mostly supported by The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation−from 18 countries were participating, and told them: “In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, I think it is more important than ever to make your voices heard. I want you to play a central role.”

Noting that case detection and treatment have been affected in many countries because of the impact of the coronavirus and that access to medical care has become more difficult and discrimination has got worse, I told participants that “leprosy must not be pushed aside, even during the coronavirus pandemic” and said I strongly hope to resume my overseas activities as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination at the earliest opportunity.

I also contributed a video message to another webinar held the previous week on “Initiatives for Preservation of Leprosy History in Europe,” telling participants: “By looking at the history of leprosy from different perspectives−such as medical care, human rights and social welfare−we can gain insights that help us find solutions to the issues facing us today.”

I noted that the history of leprosy is the history of a disease that has been transformed into a curable disease thanks to modern chemotherapy, but is also a history of mistakes and misapprehensions that led patients to be excluded and discriminated against.

Above all, I said, “it is a history of the struggle of patients and their families in the face of the disease and the discrimination, and also of the efforts of healthcare professionals” against leprosy.

Considering what leprosy has to teach us, The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation have supported efforts to preserve the history of leprosy in many countries so that current and future generations can learn from it.  

“We have a responsibility to draw valuable lessons from the history of leprosy and the transgressions committed by humankind, and pass these lessons on to future generations,” I said.

The webinar on “Initiatives for Preservation of Leprosy History in Europe” 

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
Global Appeal 2021 Urges World to Uphold “Right to Work” of Persons Affected by Leprosy (1) [2021年02月09日(Tue)]

The 16th Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy was issued on January 31, 2021, or World Leprosy Day, with the endorsement of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
I normally speak in person at the launch ceremony, but because of the novel coronavirus pandemic it was held online for the first time and I recorded a video message for the occasion.  

This year’s appeal, which was organized by Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen's Disease) Initiative (SLI), focuses on the right to work and calls for persons affected by leprosy to be treated with “dignity, fairness and respect.” SLI is a strategic alliance between the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination−a role I have served since 2001−The Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and problems related to the disease.  

Representing ITUC, which promotes and defends the rights of workers worldwide, General Secretary Sharan Burrow said in a video message that the continued existence of leprosy “points to the vulnerability of our health systems, the underfunding, the lack of attention to diseases that overwhelmingly affect the poor more than the rich.”

International labor standards uphold the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, and through Global Appeal 2021 ITUC underlined “the right of every individual seeking work to be treated with dignity, fairness and respect.” ITUC represents 207 million workers through its 331 affiliated organizations within 163 countries and territories.

“ITUC supports the efforts of persons affected by leprosy who want to earn a living,” the Global Appeal said, noting: “Although leprosy is completely curable, prejudice and discrimination based on old perceptions linger. The stigma of leprosy can result in ostracism and job loss. Even family members of a person affected by leprosy may find doors closed to them, despite being eager and willing to work.”

In my video message for the event, I stated: “The denial of the right to work is one of the most serious issues facing persons affected by leprosy,” adding, a diagnosis of leprosy can mean loss of livelihood, but “a cure is no guarantee that making a living will be possible – even for someone who is able and willing to work. This is unacceptable.”

Referencing the novel coronavirus pandemic, I commented: “These are challenging times. Social disparities have become increasingly visible and serious. But there have also been calls for the world to unite and overcome the challenges we face together.”

“So, I am hopeful that by launching Global Appeal 2021 with ITUC's support, we will draw attention to this issue and, by doing so, help protect the rights of workers affected by leprosy,” I said.

Among others who had contributed recorded messages were WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and Dr. Alice Cruz, UN Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, as well as persons affected by leprosy from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and India.

"People affected by Hansen's disease still suffer heavy social stigma in Brazil, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and misery, because those people are not given work opportunities," said Mr. Francisco Faustino Pinto, the national vice-coordinator of Brazil's Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen's Disease (MORHAN).

"We are having difficulties in getting jobs or being treated unfairly in the workplaces," said Mr. Vagavathali Narsappa, president of India’s Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL). "For some cases, it is because of deformity caused by leprosy, but for other cases, people are denied just because they or their family once had leprosy, even though they are cured and capable."

(To be continued)

The transcript of my video message for the Global Appeal 2021 online launch ceremony can be seen HERE.

The text of Global Appeal 2021 can be seen HERE.

Please go to the Global Appeal 2021 website HERE.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 12:58 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation Announces Largest-ever Single Investment into Disability Business Inclusion [2021年02月05日(Fri)]

The Nippon Foundation has decided to join “The Valuable 500” as a Global Impact Partner by providing support totaling $5 million over the next three years to the largest global network of CEOs committed to including persons with disabilities in business.

This represents the biggest-ever single investment into disability business inclusion, said The Valuable 500, which was launched by social entrepreneur and activist Ms. Caroline Casey at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2019. It is chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and is being supported by global business leaders including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

In announcing the partnership on January 29, Ms. Casey said: “We are thrilled The Nippon Foundation have joined as a key investor and can ensure our work for global disability inclusion can continue going forwards.”

Following the announcement, I said in a video message: “Having spent a major part of my life in supporting marginalized people left behind the mainstream of society, I am fully convinced that supporting minority disability groups just by reaching out to public institutions such as governments and the United Nations will not bring about effective social change. Unless the majority of the society changes, the world will never change.”

The Valuable 500 initiative brings to the global CEO community a commitment to disability inclusion that is not based simply on the concept of social welfare, I went on, adding: “Social participation for persons with disabilities means to be able to work and to become taxpayers. Work promotes talents leading the way to self-confidence, pride and happiness. The initiative of The Valuable 500 coincides with my conviction.”

The announcement came as the International Disability Alliance (IDA) also became a new high-impact partner, joining The Nippon Foundation and the World Economic Forum as the three partners that The Valuable 500 will be working with in 2021 and beyond.

IDA is an alliance of eight global and six regional organizations of persons with disabilities, grouping over 1,100 organizations of persons with disabilities and their families from over 180 countries.

IDA Executive Director Vladimir Cuk said: “It is a great pleasure and honor to serve as a strategic partner to The Valuable 500, together with The Nippon Foundation and the World Economic Forum,” adding: “Discrimination in employment and business remains one of the areas where there is still a lot to be done. That is why the innovative partnership with The Valuable 500 is so important and we are excited to shape the future of the business world together.”

It was also announced that a further 54 corporations joined the initiative, bringing the total membership to date to 415 from 35 countries that have pledged action on disability inclusion, including Bayer AG, Burberry, the Coca-Cola Company, Credit Suisse, Nestle, Prada Group and Siemens AG. Among member companies from Japan are ANA, Japan Airlines, Fast Retailing, NEC Corporation, Sega Sammy Holdings, Softbank Corp., Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Sompo Group and Sony Corporation.

The businesses of The Valuable 500’s current membership represent $5.4 trillion in combined revenue and more than 14.8 million employees.
Going forward, The Valuable 500 plans to hold conferences of member companies and international organizations on the occasion of the World Economic Forum’s Special Annual Meeting 2021 in Singapore in August and the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, and to develop benchmarks and services to promote corporate inclusion of persons with disabilities.

As I said in my video message, I sincerely hope that we will be able to be a “game-changer“ in order to realize a better world, an inclusive society, together by using this new initiative of The Valuable 500 to its full capacity.

Ms. Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500

Two in Three Japanese Youths Believe the Government Needs to Accelerate Digitalization: The Nippon Foundation Poll [2021年02月01日(Mon)]
“Do you see the government’s efforts to promote digitalization as necessary?”

It has been a while since Japan was branded as lagging behind other countries in digitalization. For example, the 2020 World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, compiled by the Swiss think tank International Institute for Management Development (IMD), placed Japan in 27th position among 63 economies, falling behind other Asian economies such as South Korea, Taiwan and China.

This has prompted Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to pursue setting up a new “digital agency” this September as one of his flagship policies, with the agency to serve as the government’s headquarters to accelerate the nation’s digital transformation.
Against this background, The Nippon Foundation conducted a nationwide online survey on the subject of “digitalization” between November 13 and 17, 2020, covering 1,000 Japanese aged between 17 and 19.

The poll found that the respondents were divided on how they see the pace of Japan’s digitalization. Nearly two in five (38.1%) consider it is “lagging,” while less than a third (31.2%) do not; 30.7% said they don’t know.

Asked where they would like to see progress in digitalization in Japan, online learning topped their answers at 35.9%, followed by speeding up delivery of cash payments to citizens to help weather the novel coronavirus pandemic (24.8%), and streamlining the government’s administrative procedures (23.5%).  

The survey also showed almost two in three Japanese youths (65.5%) consider it necessary for the government to take the initiative to promote the digitalization of society as a whole, while only 5.8% do not.

As reasons for supporting the government digitalization efforts, a majority of them cited “maintaining and upgrading national strength” (52.8%) and “facilitating and streamlining government services” (52.4%), with multiple answers allowed.

Asked why Japan is lagging in digitalization, more than 30% of them blame the deeply rooted preference for paper documents and face-to-face meetings (34.1%) and a sense of aversion to information technology (31.8%).

Queried whether they expect the creation of the digital agency will lead to progress in Japan’s digitalization, almost 40% (39.1%) answered in the affirmative vis-à-vis 20.0% who responded in the negative. 

Regarding what is needed to advance the digitalization of Japan, top answers were promotion of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) education (25.6%) and the government taking the lead in promoting the nation’s digitalization of the whole nation (also 25.6%).

It was revealed that a majority of respondents (56.7%) are using personal computers in their daily lives, while nine in 10 (91.2%) are using smartphones and/or tablets.

Japanese youths were also found to entertain some anxiety about the digital world with a majority (51.2%) saying that they may have not acquired the knowledge and skills necessary for digitalization. On the other hand, one in three (34.9%) said they are interested in learning computer programing, while one in five (18.8%) said they are learning programing languages at school or at home.

Analyzing the findings of the survey, I found that even young Japanese of 17 to 19 years old, who seem to be well versed in digital technologies, appear to have some anxiety about whether they can keep up with the rapid pace of digitalization.

I expect this will lead more people to pin high expectations on what the digital agency will accomplish under the leadership of Prime Minister Suga.

I have learned that out of about 400 employees of the digital agency, some 100 people will be recruited from the private sector. I sincerely hope that the new agency will become a strong organization characterized by a drive and flexibility that set it apart from existing government institutions and lead the way toward accelerated digitalization throughout Japanese society.  

“Do you consider Japan’s pace of digitalization to be lagging?”

“Do you expect the digital agency will produce results in accelerating Japan’s digitalization after being established in the fall of 2021?”
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:20 | A FUTURE FOR YOUTH | URL | comment(0)