Nurses back annual call for an end to leprosy-related discrimination.
Over 280 people from 11 countries gathered in Tokyo for the launch of Global Appeal 2015 to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy on January 27. Now in its tenth year, the annual appeal initiated by Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa in 2006 was being launched in Japan for the first time.
Endorsing this year’s appeal was the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and its member associations, who represent 16 million nurses worldwide.
Nurses form the world’s largest group of primary care givers and ICN President Dr. Judith Shamian told the ceremony: “It is our professional and ethical duty to fight stigma and discrimination wherever it happens, to ensure that nurses are competent to provide care and counseling to patients and their families, and to uphold the human rights and fundamental freedoms of those affected by leprosy.”
With previous appeals launched in countries including India, Brazil, and Indonesia, where leprosy continues to loom large on the health agenda, the Goodwill Ambassador explained why the 2015 event was being held in Japan—even though the country sees only a few cases of the disease each year.
“The decision, he said, “came from our desire to encourage the Japanese public, especially the younger generation, to take notice of the issues surrounding leprosy and to take this opportunity to think about the disease’s deeper meaning.”
Along these lines, a number of related events to raise awareness of leprosy and the discrimination it causes have been taking place throughout Japan, together with a social media campaign urging the public to “Think Now Hansen-byo” (Think Leprosy Now).
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, together with his wife Akie Abe, headed the list of dignitaries attending the ceremony, who included Japanese Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Yasuhisa Shiozaki, former president of Timor-Leste Dr. José Manuel Ramos-Horta, and former secretary-general of ASEAN Dr. Surin Pitsuwan.
In his remarks, Abe acknowledged that Japan’s past policy toward leprosy had severely restricted the human rights of people affected by the disease, but said that the government had since offered an apology and compensation. It was now focused on ensuring that elderly residents of national sanatoriums can live “comfortably and peacefully” and on bringing an end to stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy.
Following the speeches and short video messages from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the text of the Global Appeal was read out by 13 people. They included Vagavathali Narsappa, president of India’s Association of People Affected by Leprosy, Kristie Lane Ibardaloza, a nurse at the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital in the Philippines, Thiago Flores, a coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of Persons Affected by Hansen’s Disease in Minas Gerais State, Brazil, Kazuo Mori, chairman of Japan’s National Hansen’s Disease Sanatorium Residents’ Association, and Paulus Manek, the head of PerMaTa, an organization of people affected by leprosy in Indonesia.
“Our message is clear: leprosy can be cured. Drugs kill the bacteria. Early diagnosis and treatment prevent disability. There is no reason to isolate anyone with the disease.”