Residents of Rama Krishna Pally leprosy colony in Bhubaneswar, Odisha state, India, visited by the Goodwill Ambassador in March 2017.
On April 19, a Global Partners Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases was held in Geneva, presided over by WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
Some 1 billion people are affected by NTDs, especially those living in poverty. From the perspective of people living with these diseases day and night, the label “neglected” must sound disheartening. But progress is being made.
Based on the slogan “Leave no one behind” underpinning the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.K. and Belgian governments, pharmaceutical companies and others pledged large sums and drugs to fight NTDs. An excellent framework of support has been created. The question is: how to make it work?
At the conference I had the chance to share some of my four decades of experience in working against leprosy. As with actions against leprosy in particular, actions against NTDs in general require both medical interventions against disease and social interventions against stigma and discrimination. The three things I consider essential are: 1) securing the political commitment of leaders; 2) enlisting the cooperation of media to disseminate information about disease and encourage people to seek treatment; and 3) forming sustainable initiatives bringing together all stakeholders, including pharmaceutical companies and people affected.
To this I would add the necessity to expand the role of people affected as the main actors in awareness-raising, case-finding and rehabilitation initiatives. They are the people who know best about their diseases. In that sense, it was a shame there were not more people affected by NTDs at the NTD summit of which this meeting was a part.
I would like the leprosy community to share with other NTDs all the experiences it has gained through its activities against the disease. Finally, we must not forget what was said at the summit, namely, “We care for people” and “See the faces behind the numbers.” Addressing not just NTDs but engaging with the people who suffer from them is very important.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador