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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses the Global Appeal 2015 launching ceremony in Tokyo on January 27.

MESSAGE: Make World Leprosy Day a U.N. Day

On January 27, the annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy was launched in Japan for the first time. The appeal, which is announced on or near World Leprosy Day, is the tenth in a series dating back to 2006. This year’s appeal was endorsed by the International Council of Nurses, a federation of more than 130 national nurses’ associations.

It was the French poet, journalist, lawyer and philosopher Raoul Follereau who started World Leprosy Day in 1954, on the last Sunday in January. This year it was being observed for the 62nd time. According to his book Love One Another, Follereau had been talking to a young priest whose suggestion for a day of prayer “gave me the idea of organizing an annual demonstration on a world scale.” This was intended, Follereau said, to be “a sort of universal mobilization of hearts and minds in favor of those whom I call the saddest of the world’s oppressed minorities, and a revolt against the cruel and often tragic fate reserved for them.”

I know that every year there are awareness-raising events that take place in many parts of the globe on the occasion of World Leprosy Day. But somehow I wonder if they really add up to a global movement. Individual events in different countries and regions only reach so far. If we want more people around the world to know about this day, and to share in the desire to see both leprosy and the discrimination it causes eliminated from the world, is there not more that we could be doing?

Why don’t we think about having World Leprosy Day made an official U.N.-designated day, like World Cancer Day, for example? We already have a U.N. resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, together with accompanying principles and guidelines. Making World Leprosy Day a U.N.-designated day would, I feel, enhance its international status, give fresh impetus to our efforts, whether governmental or non-governmental, and organically connect them up into a global movement. I also dream, however, of the day when World Leprosy Day is no longer necessary.

- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador