In May, the World Health Organization saw fit to extend my term as Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination for another two years. I thank it for the trust it has placed in me and pledge to redouble my efforts.
An important part of my work is to keep leprosy and its attendant challenges in front of governments and health ministries. Fostering a better understanding of leprosy through responsible media coverage, giving encouragement to frontline health workers and promoting the involvement of people affected by leprosy in the fight against the disease are also key tasks.
In particular, I am keen to use my position to help build bridges between those affected by the disease and political and administrative leaders. This is important for ensuring access to appropriate diagnosis and treatment as well as for securing pensions, housing and better opportunities. I see this as part of the empowerment-building required to reintegrate this marginalized group into the social mainstream.
I have often used the image of a motorcycle in describing leprosy work. The front wheel represents efforts to treat the disease and its aftermath, while the rear wheel is our work to reduce social stigma.
Thanks to multidrug therapy, leprosy is curable, and WHO has provided us with a road map for further reducing the disease burden, so the front wheel is running comparatively smoothly. But my travels have shown me that regular maintenance is necessary. To further reduce the case load, leprosy needs to remain a priority if we are to sustain quality services. Regarding the back wheel, I was able to be of some help in 2008 when the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution to eliminate discrimination. I hope guidelines will be approved this year.
The word elimination has been given a specific meaning in the context of leprosy, and certain countries have yet to achieve this milestone. However, as Goodwill Ambassador, I stand for a world completely free from leprosy and the stigma and discrimination it attracts.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador