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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GLOBAL APPEAL 2010: Business Speaks Up

Leaders support principle of social integration and economic empowerment.

Yohei Sasakawa addresses the launch ceremony

Top executives from some of the world's leading corporations have endorsed the fifth in a series of global appeals to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy, launched in Mumbai, India, by Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa on January 25.

Among the 15 corporate signatories from 10 countries were Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Management, Ratan N. Tata, chairman of Tata Group, and Fujio Cho, chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation.

Held at the Taj Mahal and Tower Hotel, the event was attended by over 100 people, including two of the business leaders who had signed the appeal: Keshub Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group, one of India's top industrial houses, and Kan Trakulhoon, president and CEO of SCG, a leading business conglomerate in Thailand and the ASEAN region.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Keshub Mahindra underlined his support for the appeal, while noting that overcoming the barriers to hiring people affected by leprosy is not easy because of discriminatory attitudes that persist. "I have tried to persuade people in my organization [to hire persons affected by leprosy], but I must say I have not succeeded. There is a built-in prejudice. It is a long learning process," he said.

SCG's Trakulhoon said that his organization believed that people should be treated on an equal, fair and equitable basis. "I am very pleased to be a part of this program and hope that our intensive efforts today will enable those affected by leprosy to reclaim their dignity and human rights. And in doing so, enable them to live a normal life."

A message from Sir Richard Branson that was read out at the ceremony stated: "As business leaders we have a responsibility to reject discrimination in all forms and encourage equal opportunities for all. I hope the Global Appeal will send out a strong message that prejudice and stigma cannot be tolerated in the workplace."

The appeal 'will be a source of inspiration to a great many people.'

The reading of the appeal. Front row, left to right: Girish Firgane, Chitra Naikar, Michael Sello, Julie Kamble, Yoges Madhale and Vidhya Naikar. Back row, left to right: Tarun Das, Keshub Mahindra, Yohei Sasakawa, Kan Trakulhoon and Dr. S.K. Noordeen.

Restricted Opportunities

While significant progress has been made in tackling leprosy as a public health problem over the past two decades, the stigma associated with the disease continues to make life difficult for people affected by leprosy and even their families, restricting opportunities for education, training and employment.

With this in mind, the appeal states in part: "We believe that people affected by leprosy have the same rights as everyone else, and deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.

It continues: "We support the principle of social integration and economic empowerment of people affected by leprosy."

Goodwill Ambassdor Sasakawa, whose signature also appears on the document, praised this message from the business community, saying it "will be a source of inspiration to a great many people who want to be part of society and who are beginning to stand up for themselves. It will also help to deter the kind of outrageous discrimination that shuts off opportunities to people with the desire and the ability to work, simply because of a disease they once had."

In his remarks, the Goodwill Ambassador also singled out a factory in Maharashtra State, affiliated with the Tata Group, that employs people affected by leprosy. He described it as "a great example, and one that needs to be followed in all countries. However, such factories are few and far between."

A short film on leprosy in India, produced by the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (SILF) was shown prior to the launch of the appeal. Meanwhile, SILF trustee and president of Aspen India, Tarun Das, raised the possibility of launching a national appeal, and said he would be pursuing the idea with the Indian signatories.

As is the custom with the Global Appeal event, the text was read aloud by people from a leprosyaffected background. The six young people, all living in the Mumbai area, were Julie Kamble, Yoges Madhale, Chitra Naikar, Vidhya Naikar, Michael Sello and Girish Firgane. All are studying for degrees or are already qualified.

Speaking earlier in the day, they recalled a time when they preferred to conceal where they lived to avoid facing problems at school. But now they said the situation has improved and they do not face such difficulties because people are better informed about the disease and know it is curable. In any case, said Sello, "There are bigger diseases than leprosy now, like HIV/AIDS."

Global Appeal 2010 follows earlier appeals signed by world leaders (Delhi, 2006), representatives of persons affected by leprosy (Manila, 2007), NGOs active in the field of human rights, and religious leaders (London 2008, 2009). The appeals are launched every year at the end of January, on or near World Leprosy Day.

List of Signatories for Global Appeal 2010

photo Mr. Roger Agnelli, CEO, Vale
Mr. Mukesh D. Ambani, Chairman & Managing Director, Reliance Industries Ltd.
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman, Virgin Management Ltd.
Mr. Philippe Camus, Co-Managing Partner, Lagardere SCA
Mr. Chang Zhenming, Vice Chairman & President, CITIC Group
Mr. Fujio Cho, Chairman, Toyota Motor Corporation
Mr. Keshub Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group
Mr. Mikio Sasaki, Chairman, Mitsubishi Corporation
Mr. Louis Schweitzer, Honorary Chairman and President, Renault
Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Chairman, Tata Group
Mr. Kan Trakulhoon, President and CEO, SCG
Mr. Tsuneji Uchida, President & COO, Canon Inc.
Dr. Daniel Vasella, Chairman & CEO, Novartis AG
Mr. William C. Weldon, Chairman & CEO, Johnson & Johnson
Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank
Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman, The Nippon Foundation