In the previous issue, I wrote of my visit to Bergen in Norway, where I visited Dr. Hansen's study, the leprosy museum and the national archives. I told of how carefully the history of leprosy, and the memories of those affected by the disease, have been preserved.
Now that leprosy is a receding threat, I believe we have an important responsibility to preserve the history of a disease that blighted so many lives and pass on this memory to future generations. Today, in the name of development, hospitals, sanatoriums, homes and other buildings related to leprosy are being torn down. Long-term residents are being given no option but to move. This is happening in Taiwan, in Brazil, in Malaysia - all over the world, in fact - and concerns me greatly.
In the Principles and Guidelines recently endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council - a long-held dream of mine - there is a clause which states that governments should allow people to continue to live in the leprosariums and sanatoriums that have become their homes, if they so desire. I hope all governments will come to respect this point.
The history of this disease is also the history of an assault on human dignity and human rights resulting from discrimination. People with leprosy were targeted for exclusion, and forced to live an isolated existence. Countless millions, guilty of no crime, were shunned by society. This is an enormous negative legacy.
This discrimination is not a thing of the past. It is part of our history, which we are creating day by day. It is an error that we must strive to ensure that future generations do not forget. That is why we must pass on the memory of what people affected by leprosy endured, as well as their courageous struggle against stigma and exclusion.
I believe the historical heritage of leprosy is on a par with UNESCO world heritage. Therefore, I appeal to all concerned not to allow this important heritage to be lost.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador