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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

OBITUARY: Remembering Dr. Yang Lihe

Founder of HANDA dedicated his life to people affected by leprosy in China.

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Dr. Yang Lihe (1928 - 2011)

Dr. Yang Lihe, founder and honorary president of HANDA Rehabilitation & Welfare Association, died at his home in Guangzhou, China, on 2 August 2011. He was 82.

Born on 13 August 1928, Dr. Yang was raised in a poor family in Jiangxi province in southeast China. When he grew to realize how many people in China were poor and sick, he decided to devote his life to helping them. He enrolled in Dalian Medical University and graduated as a medical doctor.

He learned about leprosy from Dr. George Hatem (also known as Ma Haide), who worked as a doctor and public health official in China from 1933 until his death in 1989. From what he learned, Dr. Yang decided to make defeating leprosy in China and changing the lives of people affected by the disease his goal in life.

He spent more than 50 years fighting leprosy and was one of the main contributors to leprosy control in China. But he knew this was not the end of his task. People still faced great challenges, even after they were cured.

After participating in the founding meeting of IDEA International, Dr. Yang resolved to establish an organization for people affected by leprosy in China. With support from his family, Dr. Yang, by now retired, used his home as its first office. He covered expenses out of his small pension. After two years of struggle, he was finally able to see the founding of the HANDA Rehabilitation & Welfare Association on 19 August 1996.

To fight against stigma, exclusion and injustice, Dr. Yang proposed carrying out projects for comprehensive leprosy rehabilitation - physical, social and economic. Thanks to his great leadership and inspiring spirit, HANDA has become one of China's leading NGOs and has made an enormous difference to the lives of people affected by leprosy in China.

He was one of the main contributors to leprosy control in China.

Dr. Yang enjoyed a long and successful career and was the recipient of numerous official awards. As part of a team of leprosy specialists, he traveled all over the country to see and treat leprosy patients, regardless of how the hot weather or how steep the mountain roads. He regarded people affected by leprosy as members of his own family. His example not only changed the attitude of medical staff but also warmed the hearts of people affected by leprosy. "If you can bring the world happiness and love, and help people escape suffering, that is meaningful," he said.

Dr. Yang has left us, but his enthusiastic spirit to "pursue the truth and dedicate love" - which have become the core values of HANDA - will live forever.

He is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren - as well as by thousands of HANDA members. (Dr. Michael Chen, Secretary General, HANDA)