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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

AMBASSADOR’S JOURNAL: Notes from Home and Abroad

The Goodwill Ambassador details some of his recent activities in Japan and on the road.

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Visiting with people affected by leprosy at the Hospital Amazónico de Yarinacocha in Peru's Ucayali Region in January

MYANMAR (DECEMBER 12-20)

During a visit to Myanmar in December, I took time to visit the Yenanthar Leprosy Hospital in Madaya Township, around 50 kilometers from Mandalay. It is one of two specialist leprosy hospitals in the country.

Showing me around was the medical superintendent, Myat Thida, who dreams of the day when the hospital becomes a general hospital and rehabilitation center. She also took me to visit the nearby Nanthar Myaing resettlement village.

The village has a population of 1,400, of whom 360 are persons affected by leprosy. They generate income from woodcutting, charcoal-making, agriculture and animal husbandry. The village is also home to a women's sewing group.

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Flanked by Mozambique's Ambassador to Japan Belmiro Jose Malate (left) and the country's new health minister, Dr. Alexandre Manguele

JAPAN (JANUARY 17)

Mozambique's new minister of health, Dr. Alexandre Manguele, visited me in Tokyo at the start of the year. Although Mozambique has achieved elimination of leprosy as a public health problem, he told me there are still pockets of the disease where the prevalence rate is high, particularly in the northern provinces, and the ministry is focusing on these.

At the same time, parts of the country rarely see leprosy nowadays and so health workers are losing the skills to detect patients early. It is a problem that many countries face, and Dr. Manguele told me Mozambique is working to address this.

PERU (January 28-30)

Peru reports only a few cases of leprosy each year. In 2011, it registered 32 new cases. Most are found in the Loreto Region and the Ucayali Region. On a recent visit I flew to Ucayali's capital, Pucallpa, to visit the Hospital Amazónico de Yarinacocha.

Many of the patients it sees live far away, and most are poor. The distances involved make it hard for the hospital to examine family members and close contacts of those diagnosed with the disease. The regional authorities, it seems, do not pay much attention to leprosy.

About 20 people affected by leprosy had come from the surrounding area to meet with me, including a number who were still under treatment. An elderly lady told me how happy her grandchildren made her - one of whom was with her that day.

I was interested to find out that revolutionary leader Che Guevara had come here in the early 1950s on his travels made famous in The Motorcycle Diaries. From Pucallpa, it is a four-day boat journey along the Ucayali River to the San Pablo leprosy colony where he worked as a volunteer.