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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

NATIONAL FORUM: 'No More Begging!'

Kolkata conference airs hopes and needs of people affected by leprosy.

Orissa's V.V. Ramana

Around 350 delegates attended the National Forum's Eastern Regional Conference on Social Integration and Empowerment of Persons Affected by Leprosy on September 7 in Kolkata, India.

Set up in 2005 to create a network among India's 700-plus self-settled leprosy colonies, the National Forum held two nationwide conferences in 2005 and 2006 before switching to a regional format from 2007.

Represented in Kolkata were colonies in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, and India's northeastern states, whose leaders provided a snapshot of the key concerns for leprosy-affected persons. Among these were children's education, job creation, ending reliance on begging, and land ownership issues.

To loud applause, V.V. Ramana from Orissa said that children of people affected by leprosy have a responsibility to ensure that their parents do not beg, “since it reflects on their dignity too.” He also railed against the misuse of funds by unscrupulous individuals, saying, “It gives a bad name to all leprosy-affected persons.”

Chief guest at the conference was West Bengal's finance minister, Dr. Ashim Dashgupta, who was joined on the dais by member of parliament Basudeb Acharia, West Bengal's director of social welfare, K.P. Sinha, and Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa among others.

Delegates were encouraged to hear both the finance minister and social welfare director say that resources were available to help people affected by leprosy in West Bengal, and that the state government was willing to do more. Said Dr. Dashgupta, “As an economist, I believe you have to empower people. As soon as they are empowered, people pay them respect.”

National Forum President Dr. P.K. Gopal said that in states where colony leaders have done good work, colonies have been the beneficiaries of government programs. “Where there is a strong leader, his people will prosper,” he told delegates. “If he is not capable, then you should change him.”