On January 19 I had the privilege of attending a ceremony in Kathmandu to hear the announcement that Nepal had officially achieved the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem. Nepal is a country confronting tremendous political and economic challenges as it struggles to find its feet as a republic following years of civil war that brought down the monarchy. With sporadic violence and strikes a common-day occurrence and a new constitution yet to be finalized, the situation in the country is anything but stable.
Under these circumstances, I believe the achievement of elimination is all the more praiseworthy. It shows what can be done when the government, working closely with the WHO and other partners, both local and international, firmly commits to tackling a public health problem. I would also like to note the constructive role played by Nepal's media in the country's elimination activities.
Nepal's health ministry regards leprosy elimination. defined by the WHO as a prevalence rate of below 1 case per 10,000 people. as a milestone along the road to a leprosyfree world. It has indicated that it plans to bolster measures to further reduce the disease burden and so ensure that the physical and social consequences of the disease continue to decline throughout the country.
Certainly, there is no room for complacency. Nepal must sustain the quality of leprosy services and see to it that all people affected by the disease, wherever they live, have an equal opportunity to receive adequate treatment. Ongoing political commitment is essential, as is close collaboration with partners.
I invite people in countries everywhere engaged in fighting leprosy to join in celebrating Nepal's achievement and in supporting its ongoing efforts to wipe out the disease. Let us strengthen our ties and walk together hand in hand until we reach our final destination, which is a world without leprosy.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador