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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GLOBAL APPEAL 2011: Lesson from Beijing

Sixth annual Global Appeal underscores the key role of education in reducing stigma.

Scenes from the ceremony: the Goodwill Ambassdor delivers an address (top) as the audience (above) listens.

Education has an important role to play in contributing to public understanding of leprosy and challenging the stigma attached to the disease. That was the main message of Global Appeal 2011, signed by 110 heads of leading universities in 64 countries and regions, and launched at a ceremony in Beijing on 25 January 2011.

The event was attended by about one hundred people, and was hosted by Peking University. The university's president, Zhou Qifeng, was one of the signatories. Attendees included representatives from the China Society for Human Rights Studies, one of the co-organizers, the WHO, the Ministry of Health, NGOs including HANDA Rehabilitation and Welfare Association, and people affected by leprosy.

In his welcome address, Dr. Min Weifang, chairman of Peking University Council, said that while leprosy was under control in China, "it is undeniable that the public does not know that it is curable. We still need more advocacy to eliminate the disease."

Ye Xiaowen, vice president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, noted that stigma toward the disease remains strong, and said that his organization will continue to play its part in combating discrimination. "We hope more organizations will join this movement in the future," he said.

Speaking on the behalf of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Hao Yang, deputy director general of the Bureau of Disease Control, said the Chinese government had made enormous strides to reduce the number of cases of the disease, and that as many as 500,000 patients had been cured in the past 60 years. He added: "The government well understands that there are still families suffering from stigma and discrimination; hence it co-sponsored the 2008 resolution [on the elimination of stigma and discrimination] at the Human Rights Council."

Global Appeal 2011

'Awareness and Education'

Leading the recitation of the appeal in Chinese and English, respectively, were Dr. Min Weifang and Professor Paul Webley, director of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the Unversity of London, who was one of the signatories.

"The stigma associated with leprosy is rooted in myths and misconceptions that deserve no place in today's world," the appeal states. "With awareness and education, this stigma can be challenged."

The appeal also highlighted education's role as a tool of empowerment: "With education, people affected by leprosy can be empowered to overcome the social and economic barriers that society has placed in their way."

In an address, Professor Webley said: "I am a psychologist by training, so I know the impact stigma has. But stigma can be tackled. Education and communication are key. Education can give those who are affected by stigma skills, knowledge and confidence to make their way in the world. Communication helps those who are stigmatizing others understand and appreciate why they are wrong to do so."

From CEOS to Educators

The Global Appeal was first launched in 2006 by Yohei Sasakawa to raise awareness of the discrimination suffered by people affected by leprosy. To date, it has received the endorsements of world leaders, people affected by leprosy, NGOs working in the field of human rights, religious leaders, and CEOs of some of the world's leading companies. In his remarks at the Beijing ceremony, Sasakawa applauded the academic community for endorsing the message of Global Appeal 2011.

"Through education, correct understanding and knowledge can be spread. Through education people become aware of others' suffering. It can instill in us a sense that their pain is a matter for us too," he said.

The Global Appeal launch ceremony was followed by a lively press conference, with the Chinese media asking many questions about leprosy in China. Some 50 articles, mostly in Chinese, were generated by the event.

Leprosy FACT

There are an estimated 220,000 people affected by leprosy in China, including about 100,000 with visible disabilities. Around 90% of people affected by the disease live in the community, while another 20,000 still live in leprosy "recovery villages" or hospitals. Between 2006 and 2010, 8,000 new cases of leprosy were detected.