Many people ask, “Why leprosy?” There are a number of problems that rank higher on almost anyone’s list of public health priorities. There are diseases that afflict very many more people, such as malaria or hepatitis. There are much more lethal diseases, such as AIDS or even TB; so why leprosy?
It is because leprosy is definitely one of a very few diseases of public health concern that is controllable with currently available and affordable tools. Our effort now almost certainly will make the disease no longer a major public health problem, and for good. The amount of resources required, if applied anywhere else would be unlikely to make much impact. Perhaps more importantly, unlike eradication of smallpox, which was undoubtedly one of the triumphs of medical history, effective control of leprosy, even if not total eradication, is likely to remove one of the most significant sources of misery and human injustice, perhaps the longest-lasting, and most widespread scourge ever known to man.
Victory over leprosy is far more than a medical victory. It could indeed be an epoch-making event in human history. It is Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa’s dream. It is also the earnest wish of all those involved in leprosy, patients and workers alike. And it should be the hope and expectation of everyone on Earth! (From an address to a WHO Western Pacific Regional Meeting on Leprosy, ca. the latter half of 1994. Ryoichi Sasakawa established Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation in 1974 with the goal of eradicating leprosy.)