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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy
Dairy entrepreneurs in Chhattisgarh, India: these ladies are among the winners of this year’s Rising to Dignity Awards. (See page 3) Photo: S-ILF

MESSAGE: The Wheels of a Motorcycle

It was in 2006 in the pages of this newsletter that I first referred to leprosy in terms of a motorcycle. What gave me the idea was seeing the 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries about the travels across South America by Che Guevara, then a young medical student, and his friend Alberto Granado, a biochemist.

While passing through Peru, they volunteered to care for leprosy patients who lived in isolation from society in a colony on the far side of a river. Inspired by their motorcycle journey, I came to think of the disease and the discrimination it causes as the two wheels of a motorcycle.

The front wheel represents our efforts to tackle the disease, and the back wheel our fight against stigma and discrimination. Unless both wheels turn at the same time, it will not be possible to eliminate leprosy from the world. Everywhere I go, I use the image of a motorcycle to urge people to address both the disease and the discrimination.

I was delighted to see that in the WHO’s recently published Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020: Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world, a bicycle has been used to symbolize this idea. It appears on every page.

According to the explanation in the new strategy, the wheels of the bicycle represent stopping leprosy and its complications, and stopping discrimination and promoting inclusion. But who, I wonder, is riding this bicycle, and where is it heading?

Needless to say, the rider is made up of all the stakeholders in the fight against leprosy — people affected by leprosy included — and their destination is the leprosy-free world that is the long-term vision of the new five-year strategy.

The thrust of the five-year strategy is to accelerate toward that vision. Whether they are traveling by bicycle or motorcycle, I hope all stakeholders move forward with enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility.

- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador