This is the 50th issue of this newsletter. When I was appointed WHO Goodwill Ambassador, I made publishing a newsletter one of my first tasks. In the eight years since, there have been great changes in the leprosy world.
Despite many challenges remaining on the medical front, the dedication of the WHO, national governments, NGOs, doctors and health workers has seen almost every country in the world achieve the WHO's goal of reducing the prevalence of leprosy to below 1 case per 10,000 population. Brazil, the lone exception, said at this year's World Health Assembly it will do so by 2015.
Achieving the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem the world over is now within sight. However, this will not mean our work is done. Once we pass this milestone on the road to eradicating the disease, we must continue striving to reduce the disease burden further.
Concerning the stigma and discrimination faced by people affected by leprosy and their families, a resolution and accompanying guidelines were adopted at the Human Rights Council last September and subsequently at the UN General Assembly in December by all 192 member states. This was a great achievement, but it doesn't solve the problem. The resolution is merely a tool in our hands. How can we carry it into society's midst? Our work is just beginning.
Conferences around the world that focus on development or poverty almost never touch on leprosy, even though poverty and leprosy are closely related. Leprosy is viewed as a minor disease and the people suffering from it are often neglected. As a fellow human being, it makes me very angry that the existence of people affected by leprosy is ignored by the rest of society. What difference is there between us? In acknowledging their basic human rights, I am fighting for their social rehabilitation in the belief that a fair and just society is not possible otherwise. I will continue this fight for as long as I live.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador