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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

AMBASSADOR’S JOURNAL: Meetings and More

The Goodwill Ambassador’s travels take him to the United States and Europe.

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Jose Ramirez: from isolation to advocacy

UNITED STATES (April 25)

In April I traveled to the United States to take part in a one-day conference on “Health, Stigma and Human Rights” at the University of Minnesota. The event, which was organized by Professor Barbara Frey, director of the university’s Human Rights Program, in conjunction with the Center for Bioethics, focused on the human rights dimensions of preventing infectious diseases, including social and economic discrimination caused by stigma.

I was invited to give the keynote speech on “The Global Fight to Eliminate Leprosy and Leprosy-related Discrimination.” Other speakers explored the symposium theme in relation to tuberculosis, Ebola, and HIV/AIDS; they also looked at racial disparities in access to and delivery of health care in the United States as well as the issue of stigma in the context of infectious disease among refugees and prisoners.

Professor Frey is well versed in leprosy; she served as a member of the International Working Group on leprosy and human rights set up by The Nippon Foundation to follow up on the 2010 UN General Assembly resolution on Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Among the speakers were two of her former working group colleagues, Professor Yozo Yokota and Jose Ramirez.

Professor Yokota addressed protecting the international human rights of persons affected by leprosy, drawing on his past experience as a special rapporteur with the former Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Jose Ramirez, meanwhile, drew on experience of another kind. As a young man, he spent several years in Carville leprosarium in Louisiana being treated for leprosy. His presentation, “From isolation to advocacy: my journey with leprosy in the United States” ensured that the symposium ended on an appropriate note with the perspective of a person affected.

SWITZERLAND (May 24-26)

In May I was in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, where I presented the 2017 Sasakawa Health Prize. This year, the prize was awarded to Dr. Rinchin Arslan for his lifelong contribution to the advancement of primary health care in Mongolia and in particular his work in combating viral hepatitis.

This was the last Sasakawa Health Prize award ceremony overseen by WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, who served as DG between 2007 and 2017 and whose support and encouragement I have always been most grateful for as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. My thanks to you, Dr. Chan, for all you have done.

I will do my best to contribute to further progress against leprosy under Dr. Tedros.

I look forward to working with Dr. Chan’s successor, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who kindly joined us at a luncheon to celebrate this year’s Sasakawa Health Prize winner. Dr. Tedros is a former foreign minister and health minister of Ethiopia, and the WHO’s first director-general from Africa. I will do my best to contribute to further progress against leprosy under his leadership.

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With Myanmar Health Minister Dr. Myint Htwe in Geneva

As always, I took the opportunity to meet with health ministers and other officials from a number of countries on the sidelines of the assembly. Accompanying me this year was Dr. Erwin Cooreman, the team leader of WHO’s Global Leprosy Program, whose input helped underline why it is necessary to keep focused on leprosy.

With Myanmar’s health minister, Dr. Myint Htwe, I discussed the idea of holding a national symposium on ending leprosy-related stigma. In a meeting with a delegation from India, I commended the country for increasing its budget for leprosy eradication and for its plans to organize a major meeting on leprosy at the end of the year.

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Standing alongside Dr. Margaret Chan at the Sasakawa Health Prize Award ceremony for the final time
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sharing a few words with Dr. Chan’s successor, Dr. Tedros

Talking with representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo, I praised the initiatives being taken to promote early detection of new cases, making use of the Bangkok Declaration special fund set up for this purpose following the International Leprosy Summit held in Thailand in 2013. In our meeting with the delegation from Indonesia, meanwhile, Dr. Cooreman raised concerns about the high number of child cases, and the high number of cases with grade 2 disability, saying there was a need to scale up efforts in specific provinces. I shall be traveling to Indonesia in the near future and will see for myself the efforts being made against the disease.

SPAIN (May 27-29)

From Geneva I flew to Barcelona to receive the International Council of Nurses’ Health and Human Rights Award for my work to eliminate leprosy and leprosy-related discrimination. The award was presented at the ICN’s 2017 Congress, where over 130 countries were represented and some 7,000 people were in attendance.

I was extremely honored to receive this award from the ICN. The organization endorsed the 2015 Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and is committed to easing human suffering, both mental and physical, without bias or prejudice.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak before such a large audience about leprosy. Every occasion to spread greater awareness is important, and this award fills me with renewed determination to continue on my quest for a world without leprosy and the discrimination it causes.

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Delivering remarks at the International Council of Nurses’ 2017 Congress