Hansen’s Disease

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What We Do

From its inception, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation has dedicated itself to the goal of a world without Hansen’s disease. Over the years, we have worked closely with the national Hansen’s disease control programs of endemic countries, helping to strengthen their capabilities to diagnose and treat the disease.

As new cases have declined, our focus has shifted to assisting people affected by Hansen’s disease in their efforts to overcome the social stigma the disease attracts, reintegrate into society and achieve economic independence.

Most recently, we have been promoting efforts to preserve the history of Hansen’s disease, including society’s response, so that important lessons about human rights can be passed to succeeding generations.

History of Hansen’s Disease

Since the dawn of history, Hansen’s disease (HD), also known as leprosy, has been a target of social stigma, branded as God’s punishment and a karmic disease. Though it was discovered in the late 19th century to be caused by a bacteria and has weak pathogenicity, people affected by HD were often isolated and even their families were excluded from the society in dread of the disease. Despite the disease become curable, stigma against the disease and the people suffering from it persist. The legacy of these negative social reactions is still observed in many parts of the world.

Elimination of Hansen’s Disease

Committed to free people of the world from suffering of HD, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF) began its work to provide early diagnosis and proper treatment of the disease in the developing Asian countries, where there was limited access to medical services. With the advent of Multidrug Therapy (MDT) in early 1980s, HD became not only treatable, but a curable disease. The turning point of the global fight against HD was the World Health Organization (WHO) resolution at its 44th Assembly in 1991 to eliminate the disease as a public health problem, defined as “reaching a prevalence of less than one patient per 10,000 populations”. In 1994, at the First International Conference on HD Elimination held in Hanoi, Vietnam, The Nippon Foundation (TNF) announced its decision to contribute 50 million USD to WHO over 5 years from 1995 to 1999 to enable free provision of MDT to patients in need all over the world. Through this contribution, TNF generated a momentum for the anti-HD movement on a global scale.

SMHF, in collaboration with various partners including governments, International Agencies such as World Health Organization (WHO), and International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations (ILEP) and its associations, has undertaken a number of projects such as capacity building of medical and public health personnel, production of teaching materials, provision of medicine for HD reaction and related equipments, awareness raising in order to sustain the momentum for the elimination and further reduce burden due to HD.

For a Life with Dignity

Today, HD can be treated free of charge at all primary health centers around the world. Yet, newly diagnosed patients, former patients and even their families face serious discrimination and stigmatization, ostracized from the society and marginalized. SMHF strongly believes this situation must change. Since the 1990′s, SMHF is supporting organizations of people affected by HD through empowerment workshops at community and national levels in various parts of the world in order for their voices to reach society. We also believe that economic independence and education are two key areas for the persons and families affected by HD to restore their dignity and regain their places in society. For this reason we support livelihood improvements and offer opportunities for further education to those affected as well as their second and third generations.

New Issue: Human Rights and Hansen’s disease

Mid 2003 saw a new development that pushed forth a move to fight against stigma and discrimination associated with HD, a cause for which many people affected by the disease and its supporting organizations strived for years. For the first time HD was picked up at the United Nations Human Rights Sub-Commission by the effort of Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. Subsequently in 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution “Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by HD and their family members.” SMHF, in addressing the human rights issue, has created various opportunities for the people affected by HD and their families to be involved as the primary stakeholder and give their voices at various assemblies and conferences of international/national levels. We will continue our efforts to expand the opportunities for the people’s involvement in this issue.

A World without Hansen’s disease related problems

HD with its social implications is archetype of discrimination and social injustices and provides us clues as to how they are created. We therefore consider it important to preserve historical legacy related to HD. We also work to raise public awareness to end stigma and discrimination, to change the public perception of HD, to bring about economic independence, to provide education and support for organizations of people affected by HD. SMHF is aiming establishment of a world without HD related problems by paying attention to both medical and social aspects of the disease.

Annual Activity Report on Hansen’s Disease (PDF File, 1.2MB)