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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GLOBAL APPEAL 2012: Doctors Speak Out

World Medical Association endorses anti-discrimination call in Sao Paulo.

Medical professionals from around the world have put their names to the latest Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy, saying they have "the first responsibility to set the record straight" regarding the many myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease.

Launched in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on 30 January 2012, the seventh Global Appeal was endorsed by the president of the World Medical Association (WMA), Dr. José Luiz Gomes do Amaral, and the heads of more than 50 national medical associations.

In his remarks, Dr. Amaral noted that the WMA had unanimously approved the Global Appeal initiative at its general assembly in Montevideo, Uruguay, last October. It has also developed its own policy recommending all national medical associations to defend the rights of people affected by leprosy and their families.

Doctors have "the first responsibility to set the record straight."

"Hansen's disease, or leprosy as it is more commonly known, can be eliminated. This is feasible and we should not fall short of our aspirations," he said. "But we also have to care for those who have acquired the disease. We have to treat them and we have to make sure they are not discriminated against, segregated or otherwise stigmatized."

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Maravilha and Matogrosso (holding microphones) read the Appeal.

'TRULY SIGNIFICANT'

Representing Yohei Sasakawa, who initiated the annual Global Appeal in 2006, Tatsuya Tanami of The Nippon Foundation said that it was "truly significant" that medical professionals have lent their voices to let the world know that leprosy is a mildly infectious disease, not spread by casual contact and that there are no medical grounds for isolating a person with the disease.

Dr. Florentino de Araujo Cardosa Filho, the president of the Brazilian Medical Association, which hosted the event, said "you can count on us" to help eliminate the stigma attached to leprosy. The association has a leprosy unit, has information about the disease on its website, and is working closely with the health ministry and different branches of the medical profession to tackle it.

The president of Mozambique's medical association, Dra. M. Rosel Salomao, stressed the importance of political commitment in tackling leprosy. She also recognized the need for doctors to speak out on behalf of patients, "because patients' voices are not being heard."

Artur Custodio, national coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hansen's Disease (MORHAN), said the involvement of medical associations was very important to the cause of eliminating discrimination and he hoped that everyone in the medical community would now familiarize themselves with the Global Appeal text.

The ceremony heard directly from a number of Brazilians who had personally suffered from leprosy-related discrimination. Cristiano Torres described the pain and hurt of losing his freedom and citizenship rights. Valdenor Rodrigues da Cruz recalled being treated "like an animal." Teresa Oliveira, who was taken from her parents because they had leprosy, said, "We were alienated from society and treated it with indifference. We must make it clear once and for all that leprosy is curable and stigma needs to be consigned to the past."

CELEBRITY PRESENCE

As the audience looked on, the text of the appeal was read out by two popular Brazilian celebrities, Ney Matogrosso and Elke Maravilha. Both have been closely involved with MORHAN over the years in working to restore the rights of people affected by leprosy in Brazil.

"Leprosy affects the poor, the voiceless," said Matogrosso. "Unless the disease is treated with humanity and compassion, those affected by leprosy will remain on the margins of society." Added Maravilha, ""What scares me most is the indifference of people. This must change."

The event, held at the Paulista Medical Association, was attended by some 150 invited guests from government, international organizations, media, the medical profession, NGOs and people affected by the disease.