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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

AMBASSADOR’S JOURNAL: Geneva at the Double

The Goodwill Ambassador visits Geneva twice in May, laying the groundwork for Global Appeal 2014 and attending the 66th World Health Assembly.

Addressing ICC delegates in Geneva on May 7

SWITZERLAND (MAY 5-7, 21-23)

For the next Global Appeal to Eliminate Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy, to be launched in January 2014, I am seeking the endorsement of national human rights bodies. The 26th annual meeting of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) for National Human Rights Institutions, held from May 6 to 8 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, was the perfect opportunity to make my case.

On May 7, the ICC and The Nippon Foundation organized a lunchtime event to introduce the Global Appeal concept to delegates and to highlight leprosy-related discrimination. The session was chaired by Dr. Mousa Burayzat, the outgoing ICC chairperson. Representing people affected by leprosy were Jose Ramirez, Jr., managing editor of The Star newspaper in the United States, and Vagavathali Narsappa and Guntreddy Venugopal, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of National Forum India.

In my remarks, I said: "If all of you who represent the various national human rights institutions around the globe could declare that you stand by the people affected by leprosy in your region, it would not only be of great encouragement to them but also be a tremendous step toward safeguarding their human rights and helping them to regain their dignity."

Two attendees - Ms. Bernadetha Gambishi from Tanzania and Ms. Ann Munyiva Kyalo Ngugi from Kenya - tabled an emergency motion that allowed me to address the main ICC session for five minutes later in the afternoon. I appreciated the opportunity and the warm reception given to my Global Appeal proposal.

A fortnight later I was back in Geneva for the 66th World Health Assembly. Each year I speak at the award ceremony for the Sasakawa Health Prize, but I also take the chance to talk with visiting health ministers about leprosy issues.

This year I had a full schedule of meetings with delegations from a dozen countries: India, Brazil, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Myanmar, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, and Tanzania. These are some of the 18 countries that have been invited to Bangkok in July to attend a Leprosy Summit that I am organizing with the WHO's Southeast Asia Regional Office. With leprosy seemingly slipping down the list of health priorities in some countries, there is a need to refocus our efforts for leprosy control and so I urged them to participate.

With UNHCHR Dr. Navanethem Pillay

During my stay, I also called on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay. Her office helped to lay the groundwork for the Human Rights Council resolution on elimination of discrimination against people affected by leprosy, later adopted by the U.N. General Assembly. Referring to the Principles and Guidelines approved by the resolution, she said, "You have a document that member states have adopted. You have achieved what many people on the outside, knocking on doors, are still trying to do. Now you have to ensure it is implemented."

JAPAN (June 1-2)

At the start of June I gave a speech at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). On the sidelines, I arranged meetings with the presidents of Benin, Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda; the vice president of Nigeria; and the prime minister of Ethiopia.

Since Ethiopia is the venue of the next regional symposium on leprosy and human rights I am organizing, I was encouraged to hear Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn say he would be attending, and that he would be sending his health minister to Bangkok. "We are strongly committed to leprosy control," he told me. "People affected by leprosy need public attention."


"There are many differences in language, culture, geography, politics and religious belief throughout the world. However, one common thread to all who are labeled by the "L" word is the injustice and discrimination that accompanies this tiny bacillus." - Jose Ramirez, Jr.