SASAKAWA MEMORIAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

GLOBAL APPEAL 2015: Turning a Lens on Leprosy

Photo exhibition depicts the lives of people affected by leprosy around the world.

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“To think about leprosy is to think about people” was the title of a recent photo exhibition held in Tokyo featuring the work of Nippon Foundation photographer Natsuko Tominaga.

For the past 12 years, Tominaga has accompanied Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa on many of his overseas missions and amassed thousands of images from all over the world of people affected by leprosy and the circumstances in which they live.

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Tominaga: “The number one cause of prejudice is ignorance.”

“It has become clear to me that the number one cause of prejudice is ignorance,” she said. “Through the photos I selected for the exhibition, I wanted viewers to have a better grasp of the often harsh realities that still surround leprosy, even today.”

The images she chose included those that reveal the physical disabilities that leprosy can cause if it goes untreated, as well as the disease’s sometimes devastating social consequences — people forced to beg for a living, and a man whose son was burned to death after the family’s hut was torched by someone who wanted them off the land.

KNOWLEDGE HELPS

In a booklet accompanying the exhibition, Tominaga wrote: “While I do not think that knowledge solves everything, I believe that by familiarizing ourselves with an issue we can help to lessen the stigma and discrimination through understanding.”

So she was encouraged by the different comments left by exhibition-goers, such as: “Seeing these photos has made the issue much more real for me”; and, “People need to know about this, especially children.”

Not all the images are from outside Tominaga’s home country, Japan, where a policy of segregation remained in place until 1996. “I feel strongly that we must not forget that there are still many people affected by leprosy living in Japan,” she says. “There is so much for us to learn from what they have been through.”