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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

ASEC-TNF PROJECT: Toward a 'Caring Community'

Initiative focuses on social reintegration and restoration of dignity.

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, ASEAN Secretary General, gives the keynote address.

A new project launched jointly by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat and The Nippon Foundation in Jakarta on June 15 is aimed at empowering people affected by leprosy and building an environment in which they and their families can lead a dignified life. The first phase of the ASEC-TNF Project on Leprosy and Human Dignity focuses on Indonesia. The project will then be expanded to the other nine ASEAN members.

In his keynote address before an audience of about 100 diplomats, dignitaries, journalists and people affected by leprosy, ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan said, "ASEAN aspires to be a caring and a compassionate society … Therefore, we cannot leave any issue of this major proportion undetected."

Although leprosy is no longer considered a public health problem . as defined by the WHO . in the ASEAN region, there were 25,000 new cases of the disease reported in 2007, with Indonesia contributing the bulk of these. While the disease is curable, the stigma attached to it stops people coming forward for treatment, leading to disability, and many experience social discrimination even after they are cured.

"Societies need to recognize that leprosy is a social problem as much as it is a physical problem," Dr. Surin told a press conference following the ceremony. "The measure of our success is how well we treat the less fortunate members of our society. We have to treat them with compassion and dignity."

Initiatives under the project will include capacity-building workshops and seminars by and for people affected by leprosy and family members, and campaigns to make the general public better informed about the disease. ASEC and TNF will work with governments, the private sector and with civil society to implement the project.

Project Manager Adi Yosep said that he had experienced both health issues related to leprosy, and also the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease. "As a person affected by leprosy, I am very proud of the project and of its potential."

In the afternoon, a sensitization workshop heard from Virendra S. Gupte (Tata International Ltd., India) on Partnering with the Business Community, Ryotaro Harada (Joy in Action, China) on Social Changes Related to China in Leprosy, Ujjwal K. Chowdhury (Symbiosis University, India) on the Involvement of the Media in India, and Aco Manafe (Suara Pembaruan Daily, Indonesia) on Breaking the Cycle of Stigmatization through the Media in Indonesia.

The ASEC-TNF Project on Leprosy and Human Dignity is one of several to result from a Memorandum of Agreement signed by ASEC and The Nippon Foundation in 2008*.


* Beside leprosy, the areas of cooperation between the two parties involve the promotion of traditional medicine in primary health care, programs to empower persons with disabilities, maritime civilian safety and capacity-building within the ASEAN Secretariat.