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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

MESSAGE: Faith Leaders Speak Out

Timed to coincide with World Leprosy Day the previous day, the launch ceremony for Global Appeal 2009 to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy was held on January 26 at Church House adjacent to Westminster Abbey in London.

The purpose of this appeal is to spread correct understanding of leprosy and banish the social stigma and discrimination that people affected by the disease and even their families face. Since 2006, when I launched the first appeal, I have enlisted the support of different individuals and groups in this effort, and I reiterate my thanks to them all.

For this, the fourth Global Appeal, 17 religious leaders representing Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths joined me in putting their names to this initiative. Before the appeal was read out by Kofi Nyarko of Ghana and Farida from Indonesia on behalf of people affected by leprosy everywhere, representatives of the signatories gathered on stage to convey messages of support.Joining hands, they pledged to rid the world of the stigma associated with leprosy and the discrimination it breeds.

In order to correct the mistaken impression that many people have of leprosy and to ensure that there is a common understanding of this disease, religions can play a vital role. Therefore, I was delighted to hear these religious leaders dispel the notion that leprosy is a "curse" or "God's punishment" and commit themselves to helping secure respect for the human rights of people affected by leprosy and their families.

I hope and believe that this message will reach their tens of millions of followers around the globe, and, through them, spread throughout society at large. Only when all of us are aware and involved can we hope for an end to leprosy and the discrimination that people affected by the disease have endured through the ages. In the words of Global Appeal 2009, "Let the healing begin today."

- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador