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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GENEVA MEMO: 'Passion, Persistence, Patience'

No let-up in efforts to control leprosy and reduce the disease burden.

Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa traveled to Geneva in May for the 62nd World Health Assembly. On May 21 and 22, on the sidelines of the assembly, he met with representatives of governments and international organizations to discuss leprosy issues.

In a meeting with Francisco T. Duque, Secretary of the Department of Health of the Philippines, he thanked the Philippine government for supporting last June's Human Rights Council Resolution 8/13 calling for an end to stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. He also had praise for Dr. Arturo Cunanan, head of the technical division of the Culion Leprosy and Rehabilitation Program, for his work not only in the Philippines, but also recently in Nepal, where he conducted technical training.

In a meeting with Dr. Suriya Wongkongkathep, Senior Health Supervisor at the Office of Health Inspector General of Thailand's Ministry of Public Health, he similarly thanked the Thai government for its support of HRC Resolution 8/13. For his part, Dr. Suriya Wongkongkathep said that Thailand had conducted some intensive case-finding activities three years ago and was now focused on assuring quality leprosy services.

In a brief meeting with Zambia's health minister, Kapemba Simbao, the Goodwill Ambassador said that he looked forward to visiting Zambia over the summer to learn more about that country's leprosy control program.

photo photo
Dr. Mirta Roses Dr. Margaret Chan


During a working lunch attended by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, Dr. Plianbangchang Samlee, WHO Regional Director for South East Asia, and Dr. Mirta Roses, WHO Regional Director for the Americas, and others, Dr. Chan honored the Goodwill Ambassador by saying that she appreciated his "energetic, persistent and consistent global effort" for leprosy.

Dr. Roses underlined the necessity for "passion, persistence and patience." With reference to Brazil, which still has to deal with many new cases of leprosy each year, she said the country was using "a different language" in its approach to tackling the disease. However, she stressed that this did not signal a lack of commitment to reducing the leprosy burden, and added that full surveillance of Brazil's leprosy control activities was being planned.

In a meeting with Dr.Kyaw Myint of Myanmar's Ministry of Health, Dr. Myint told the Goodwill Ambassador that the leprosy prevalence rate in Myanmar continues to fall. Early detection and treatment are contributing to a decrease in cases with disability, which in turn results in a lessening of stigma. As part of this effort, Myanmar is conducting leprosy awareness campaigns on television.

Dr. Pillay (left) with Yohei Sasakawa

Professor P. I. Garrido, Mozambique's Minister of Health, said in a meeting that Mozambique had achieved elimination at the national level at the end of 2007, but that the president waited to make a formal announcement until the following year. By then, Mozambique had achieved elimination at the provincial level too. The country is now focusing on specific districts where the prevalence rate remains high, he said.

On May 22, the Goodwill Ambassador met with Dr. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when he explained the background to his efforts to bring leprosy to the attention of UN human rights experts. Dr. Pillay, who was appointed last September, expressed surprise that leprosy had not been taken up as a human rights issue in the past. She commended the Goodwill Ambassador's continuous efforts to draw attention to the issue and acknowledged the initiative taken by the Japanese government in overseeing the passage of resolution 8/13. She said she looked forward to the report that the HRC Advisory Committee was preparing on leprosy and human rights, and promised that her office would remain fully focused on the issue.