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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

AMBASSADOR’S JOURNAL: Testing the Waters

The Goodwill Ambassador spends a productive three days in Geneva during the 61st World Health Assembly.

Torres (third from left) with the Sasakawa Prize. WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan is at far left.

SWITZERLAND (MAY 21-23)

There were three items on my agenda when I traveled to Geneva this May: first, to attend the presentation of the Sasakawa Health Prize; second, to liaise with health ministers on the sidelines of the 61st World Health Assembly; and third, to meet with a number of ambassadors representing member countries of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Sasakawa Health Prize was established 24 years ago in response to the WHO's "Health for All" initiative, and recognizes outstanding contributions by individuals or organizations in the field of primary health care. This year's winner is MORHAN, a Brazilian NGO dedicated to fighting leprosy and rehabilitating those with the disease.

I was delighted that the selection committee saw fit to honor a close partner in the fight against leprosy in this way. Only when we embrace the problems faced by others as our own will "Health for All" prevail, and MORHAN, through the involvement of thousands of volunteers, is an example of how this can be achieved.

Cristiano Torres gave a speech of acceptance on behalf of MORHAN, and in so doing became the first person affected by leprosy to address the World Health Assembly. He received long and sustained applause.

I sought support for a draft resolution calling for an end to discrimination.

It was also gratifying to see what a source of pleasure this award was to the Brazilian government. MORHAN and the authorities have not always seen eye to eye in the past, but they enjoy a constructive relationship today and this can only be beneficial for improving the situation for people affected by leprosy. I wish MORHAN well with its work.

In my meetings with health ministers from various countries (see facing page), I stressed the importance of continuing to provide leprosy services in order to control the disease in countries where it has already been eliminated as a public health problem. I also urged the ministers of Brazil and Nepal, the two countries yet to reach the goal, to redouble their efforts.

The third reason for my presence in Geneva was to seek the understanding and support of ambassadors of member states of the UN Human Rights Council for a draft resolution to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families, which is to be proposed by the Japanese government at the 8th session of the Council scheduled for June 2-18.

I met a total of nine ambassadors (from the Philippines, Russia, Romania, Pakistan, the UK, Brazil, France, Madagascar and India), who all expressed interest in the issue and promised their support, subject to further consultations with their respective governments.

These were constructive exchanges, not least because I realized there is a clear need for much more awareness-building if society is to fully grasp the issues surrounding leprosy and the scale of the problems people affected by the disease face.

At time of writing, the draft resolution had received favorable responses from about one third of the 47 member states on the Council, so there is still much work to be done.