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Yohei Sasakawa
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The Nippon Foundation, MetLife Launch “Better Life Better Place” Program for the Elderly and Children in Japan (2) [2021年09月27日(Mon)]
The number of older people in Japan has been increasing. This program will provide a safe, home-like environment where the elderly can spend their last days supported in comfort.

Local home helpers, visiting nurses, and volunteers will work together to support residents’ daily medical, nursing, and preventive care needs. The program aims to have 10 facilities up and running in the Kanto (centering on the Tokyo metropolitan area), Kansai (western Japan), Tohoku (northeastern Japan), and Kyushu (southern Japan) regions by the first half of 2024.

While the majority of older persons in Japan pass away in hospitals, about 80% express a desire to live out their final days at home, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW). As the decline in Japan’s birthrate and the aging of its population accelerate, there is a need for environments in which people can feel at ease at the end of their lives.

The aim of “Third Places for Children,” meanwhile, is to provide after-school facilities for children facing challenges including being left alone or having to eat alone because of family circumstances, or children who are experiencing learning or living difficulties due to developmental characteristics, or a loss of opportunity because of financial circumstances.

These facilities provide children with meals, help them develop good study and living habits, and provide them with opportunities for various life experiences. The facilities also cooperate with schools and professional organizations to serve as a hub for the local community. The program aims to complete two Third Places for Children, one each in the Kanto and Kansai areas, by September 2022.

I told the press conference that roughly one in seven children under 18 in Japan live in relative poverty, according to MHLW, and the economic and educational disparities are expected to only worsen under the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. Given these difficult conditions, the need for programs like these to support these two vulnerable groups could not be more urgent.

I was greatly impressed by Mr. Dirk Ostijn’s firm grasp on the pressing problems facing senior citizens and children in Japan less than a year after coming to the country.

MetLife Foundation’s grant is probably one of the largest single contributions by a private entity to The Nippon Foundation. With employees of MetLife Japan working as volunteers to support these care facilities across the country, I sincerely hope the program will become a role model for other companies and thus help foster a culture of donations in Japan.

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)
The Nippon Foundation, MetLife Launch “Better Life Better Place” Program for the Elderly and Children in Japan (1) [2021年09月24日(Fri)]
With Mr. Dirk Ostijn (right), MetLife Japan Representative Statutory Executive Officer, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, at a press conference to launch “MetLife Foundation x The Nippon Foundation: ‘Better Life Better Place’ for the Elderly and Children” program on September 16, 2021.

The Nippon Foundation and MetLife Insurance K.K. (“MetLife Japan”) have launched “MetLife Foundation x The Nippon Foundation: ‘Better Life Better Place’ for the Elderly and Children” program to develop a total of 12 care facilities for older persons and children across Japan over three years from September 2021.

MetLife Foundation, the philanthropic arm of MetLife, a global provider of insurance and other financial services headquartered in New York, will donate $3.75 million (approx. 400 million yen) to The Nippon Foundation to undertake the project.

Starting this month, the program will begin developing 10 home-like hospice facilities for older persons as well as two “Third Places for Children” that are neither homes nor schools where children raised in challenging environments can spend time after school.

The Nippon Foundation will build and operate these facilities nationwide and MetLife Japan employees will have opportunities to support the facilities and their residents through volunteer programs, including much-needed support for users and care workers and educational and financial empowerment programs for children.

At a press conference to announce the launch at The Nippon Foundation on September 16, Mr. Dirk Ostijn, Japan Representative Statutory Executive Officer, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Metlife Japan, said: “MetLife Foundation is delighted to partner with The Nippon Foundation to build a strong, multi-year program to help those in communities where we work and live.”

“With the grant from MetLife Foundation, The Nippon Foundation and volunteers from MetLife Japan, we will all work together to tackle the societal challenges facing the elderly and children in Japan with the aim of building a sustainable society where no one is left behind.”

I said that we were very grateful to receive this donation of more than 400 million yen to be granted over the next three years, in recognition of The Nippon Foundation’s activities to date, adding: “We look forward to working with MetLife Japan and MetLife Foundation to address issues facing older persons and children.”

(To be continued)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:21 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)
Majority of Japanese Youths in Favor of COVID-19 Vaccination with 22% Undecided (2) [2021年09月21日(Tue)]
Asked who should be given priority in receiving vaccinations, the highest mark was given to people working at hospitals and other medical facilities (7.84 on a scale of 1 to 10), followed by those with underlying medical conditions (6.88) and caregivers working at nursing facilities (6.83). On the other hand, lower points were given to company employees aged 16 to 49 (5.35), students (5.57) and company employees aged 50 to 64 (5.62).

Japan started its vaccination campaign in mid-February by prioritizing about 4.8 million front-line medical personnel, followed by approximately 36 million people aged 65 or older. But the rest of the population had to wait, among them about 8.2 million people with underlying health conditions and some 2 million care workers at nursing facilities.

On August 27, the Tokyo metropolitan government opened a vaccination center in the capital's Shibuya Ward for people aged between 16 and 39 to get a jab without an appointment.

But on the first day, the center was forced to close its reception desk at 7:30 a.m. after the number of applicants quickly reached the daily limit of 300. As a result, many of those who had lined up could not get inoculations.

Then, on the second day, the center began distributing lottery tickets between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and announced the winning numbers via social media at 11:30 a.m.

But this backfired because applicants still had to show up to get a lottery ticket at a time when residents of Tokyo were being asked to restrict their outdoor activities as much as possible due to the state of emergency in place in response to the pandemic. More than 2,000 people queued up−the line stretched for about one kilometer−for lottery tickets for just 350 doses. This prompted the metropolitan government authorities to switch to an online lottery for doses to be administered from September 4.

In The Nippon Foundation’s survey taken in mid-July, 36.6% of young Japanese said they wanted to get vaccinated but had been unable to make an appointment. As the episode in Tokyo showed, there were still many people eager and waiting to be vaccinated as of the end of August.

The population of Tokyo’s 23 wards stands at more than 9 million. Even the most conservative estimate puts the number of people who want to get vaccinated in the tens or hundreds of thousands. It was quite clear that if the Tokyo government opened a vaccination center with only 300 to 350 doses at hand per day, the result would likely be a shambles.

Tokyo’s actions have been hard to fathom and this seems another example of the metropolitan government’s muddled response to COVID-19.


Who should be given priority in receiving vaccinations?
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | A FUTURE FOR YOUTH | URL | comment(0)
Majority of Japanese Youths in Favor of COVID-19 Vaccination with 22% Undecided (1) [2021年09月17日(Fri)]
Do you intend to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

In mid-July, The Nippon Foundation conducted an online survey to find out what young people thought of the getting vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.  At the time, the contagious Delta variant was accelerating the spread of the virus, but some Japanese youths were said to be reluctant to get vaccinated in part because of false rumors about side effects.

To find out more, between July 16 and 20 we surveyed 1,000 Japanese across the country aged between 17 and 19 on the subject of “Coronavirus Vaccines.”

The poll found that about one in 10 of the respondents (9.1%) said they had already been vaccinated while almost a similar percentage (10.5%) had made an appointment to get a shot. But close to 40% (36.6%) who wanted to get vaccinated had been unable to make an appointment. In other words, more than half of young Japanese (56.2%) had been or were intending to get vaccinated at the time the survey was carried out.

On the contrary, one in five (22.5%) said they had not decided and almost the same percentage (21.3%) did not intend to get vaccinated.

When asked why they did not intend to get a shot (multiple answers accepted), three in 10 (32.2%) cited their concern about short-term or mild side effects and a similar portion (31.3%) were worried about long-term or serious side effects.

But some answered optimistically, including those who said that young people’s health is not significantly affected even if they become infected with the coronavirus (2.5%) and that Japan has had few infections so their likelihood of becoming infected is low (1.8%).

Respondents were also asked about a proposal by business organizations and others for introducing so-called vaccine passports requiring people to show proof−whether of double vaccination, a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or antigen tests, or finishing self-isolation after being infected−in order to gain entry to restaurants, bars or other venues with large crowds, as well as public transportation. The scheme, also known as the health pass in France and green pass in Italy and Austria, are all designed to normalize economic and social activities while staving off spikes in COVID-19 infections.

The survey showed that almost half of young Japanese (43.6%) supported the idea and about one in five (18.2%) were against it with the rest (38.2%) saying they don’t know. Of those already inoculated or intending to be, more than half (57.1%) were in favor of the scheme. Those who do not intend to get a jab were equally divided with one in four (26.3%) both supporting and opposing the scheme with the rest (47.5%) saying they don’t know.

Specifically, over 40% of all the respondents (40.1%) said they favor vaccine passports if they lead to an exemption or relaxation of restrictions on visiting nursing homes and medical facilities (40.1%), on going to school or work (35.6%), and on domestic travel (35.0%)

(To be continued)

Why don’t you intend to get vaccinated?
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:48 | A FUTURE FOR YOUTH | URL | comment(0)
Pleased to Join First Forum on “Disabilities and Business” for an Inclusive World [2021年09月14日(Tue)]
Speaking at the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies, in Tokyo on August 20, 2021.

I was pleased to participate in the first forum on “Disabilities and Business” jointly sponsored by The Nippon Foundation and “The Valuable 500,” a business network representing CEOs of 500 global companies committed to including persons with disabilities in business through access to jobs, products and services.

The Valuable 500 was launched by Ms. Caroline Casey, an Irish social entrepreneur who is visually impaired, at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2019 to promote reforms that will enable persons with disabilities to demonstrate their potential social, business and economic value.

In a video message for the August 20 forum, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he “strongly supports” the initiative to promote employment of persons with disabilities and development of products and services tailored to their needs. He then welcomed The Nippon Foundation’s decision to join the business network as a Global Impact Partner by providing support totaling $5 million over the next three years. He is hopeful that the “highly significant” network will expand further beyond the 500 companies, he added.

Speaking online from Dublin, Ms. Casey noted it took two and a half years to bring together 500 CEOs from global firms committed to disability business inclusion. She hopes that more than 50 companies from Japan, the second largest number after the United Kingdom, will lead the way toward major innovation.

In my remarks, I welcomed the prime minister’s comments on business disability inclusion at this first forum, expressing my resolve to work with the 500 global business leaders to create employment for the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities and create products and services for them. The purchasing power of persons with disabilities in the world, their families and friends are said to total $13 trillion, a market bigger than China.

For more than 50 years, I noted, The Nippon Foundation has supported social participation by persons with disabilities across the globe. Our focus has been on creating an inclusive society in which people with disabilities can actively participate without discrimination.

In preparation for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, held from August 24 to September 5, 2021, The Nippon Foundation offered 29 Japanese Paralympic sports associations offices on the fourth floor of our building, providing them with organizational and logistical support, including translation into Japanese of documents regarding changes in competition rules.

Speaking just days before the start of the Paralympics, I told the forum I hoped the games would fill children the world over with hopes and dreams and serve as a catalyst for changing the world into a more inclusive society, thus providing a further impetus to the Valuable 500 initiative.

The network is chaired by former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and is being supported by noted global business leaders including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

The Valuable 500 membership includes such well-known names as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, BBC, BP, Daimler, Intel, Mastercard, and P&G as well as 53 Japanese companies such as ANA, Japan Airlines, Fast Retailing, NEC, Sega Sammy Holdings, Softbank, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, Sompo Group, Sony, Dentsu, Hitachi, the Asahi Shimbun, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Seiko.

Later in the forum, we listened to presentations by business leaders including Mr. Kazuo Hirai, senior adviser to Sony Group, and Mr. Toshiya Kakiuchi, CEO of Mirairo Inc., who has used a wheelchair since childhood, on the value expected to be added to companies in the eyes of investors by inclusion of persons with disabilities in business and development of products and services for them.

The three-hour forum finished off with a talk session on challenges and possibilities Japanese firms face in disability business inclusion.

Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, The Nippon Foundation’s managing director, said in his closing remarks that years of efforts by governments, NGOs and others have failed to produce visible results, so the time is ripe for global CEOs to get directly involved in disability business inclusion. He said he was looking forward to seeing Japanese companies come up with unique ways of doing so and explaining them to the world.

Once the novel coronavirus pandemic becomes more manageable, I look forward to traveling around Japan and further afield to boost this initiative by private companies and individuals in business and get governments on board.
What could Tokyo have done better in responding to COVID-19? [2021年09月10日(Fri)]
14 prefabricated buildings with a total of 150 beds are now open for COVID-19 patients who are over the worst of the illness to recuperate. The Nippon Foundation built the facility in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay and leased it to the Tokyo metropolitan government for nothing.

The Nippon Foundation has built a makeshift facility comprising 14 prefabricated buildings with 150 beds in Odaiba on Tokyo Bay to accommodate novel coronavirus patients with moderate or no symptoms. As new cases surged in the Japanese capital since late last year, we repeatedly urged the Tokyo metropolitan government to use the facility built in the parking lot of the Museum of Maritime Science to take in patients, including those with pets.

Between July 1 and August 15, with cases reaching record highs and hospital capacity and medical infrastructure under strain, the facility’s busiest day saw only 49 COVID-19 patients; one day, there were just 11.

I was puzzled by the inconsistency between what was going on in the frontlines and the way Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike talked on TV every day about the need to do whatever necessary to increase the number of available beds to cope with the pandemic.

So, as the head of the foundation that has leased the facility to the Tokyo government for nothing, I was pleased to know that Ms. Koike seemed to have finally grasped what was actually happening.

According to media reports, the governor has decided to move patients who are on the road to recovery from hospitals to the Odaiba facility in order to save hospital beds almost exclusively for the seriously ill.

The decision came as hospitals in Tokyo have been under severe pressure due to the surge in cases propelled by the highly infectious COVID-19 Delta variant. The Odaiba facility has introduced oxygen concentrators to be used for patients with moderate symptoms, should they require them.

The governor told a metropolitan assembly session on August 19 that she will beef up the Tokyo’s medical facilities to mitigate the pandemic by working closely with the foundation and hospitals in and around the capital.

On September 9, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga extended a state of emergency for 19 prefectures, including Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, beyond the September 12 deadline through September 30. Pressure on medical facilities in Tokyo has forced more than 17,000 COVID-19 patients to isolate at home instead of in hospital as of September 1−a clear indication of the lack of hospital beds in the capital.

As I wrote in previous blogs, The Nippon Foundation has undertaken a project since last March to offer caregivers and other essential workers of elderly nursing homes in Tokyo and the three nearby prefectures free and regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19. Thorough testing is considered to be one of the most effective ways to avoid transmission of the disease.

Television and newspapers report only the number of positive cases. But I believe they should also publish data on the number of people tested. They seemed to have hardly reported on the importance of conducting PCR tests.

Although the foundation has directly informed the governors of Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures that we are offering free PCR tests for caregivers, the number of tests conducted has fallen far short of our expectations.

As of August 23, a total of 1,044,712 PCR tests were administered mainly for the staff of nursing facilities in the metropolitan area under the foundation’s project. Of these, 202 persons tested positive, or 0.019% of the total. Perhaps the fact that we are conducting the tests for free has upset those who do business from testing. But I imagine there are many people who cannot afford to pay a test fee of more than 10,000 yen (about $90).

Our fight against COVID-19 basically comes down to “self-help”−each one of us taking steps to avoid being infected by the coronavirus. At the same time, isn’t it also important to make better use of “mutual help” offered by the private sector, including The Nippon Foundation, in addition to the “public help” provided by the central and local governments?

The oxygen concentrator and monitors the Odaiba facility introduced for patients with moderate symptoms, should they require them.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:06 | ENHANCING COMMUNITIES | URL | comment(0)
“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.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 10:00 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)
“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)
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 15:21 | LEPROSY | URL | comment(0)