In December 2010, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution on ending discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. This was the result of a process that began when I approached the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2003 - a process sustained by the efforts of many, including NGOs, organizations of people affected by leprosy and the Japanese government. The resolution's accompanying principles and guidelines clearly outline the rights to which people affected by leprosy and their families are entitled. They also indicate the responsibility of governments and civil society to restore and protect those rights.
Yet nothing will change without further action on the part of all stakeholders. We must take every opportunity to bring the resolution to the attention of the relevant authorities. We must encourage them to act on its words. For my part, I am planning to hold a seminar on human rights in each of the world's five main continents, starting next year. The purpose is to raise awareness of the resolution among political leaders, international bodies, NGOs, media and the general public and ensure that the resolution is properly implemented.
How to reduce stigma and discrimination was the subject of the first session of the recent global leprosy program managers' meeting held in New Delhi. Invited to give a keynote address, I outlined the three strategies I follow. The first is to focus the international community's attention on leprosy as a human rights issue. The second is to build awareness and transform social perceptions through initiatives such as an annual Global Appeal. The third is to empower people affected by leprosy.
While the WHO's primary responsibility is to further reduce the incidence of the disease, I welcome the fact it has also taken up the disease's social consequences. I look forward to joining all stakeholders in a renewed effort to combat both leprosy and the discrimination that it causes.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador