Around 1,500 people attended the recently concluded International Leprosy Congress, which takes place every five years and was held this year in Hyderabad, India. Amid the scientific discussions that are its raison d'etre, noteworthy at this 17th Congress was the fact that about one third of the sessions were devoted to social aspects of leprosy, including stigma and discrimination, empowerment, community-based rehabilitation and human rights. Moreover, among the participants were some 140 people affected by the disease from around the world.
With regard to the social aspects of leprosy, it was in July 2003 that I first approached the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to see if it would be possible for the Commission on Human Rights to take up the issue of leprosy. Thereafter, the Sub-Commission passed several non-binding resolutions calling for an end to discrimination. Most recently, I am pleased to see that the Japanese government has been moving in the direction of tabling a motion on the subject at the UN Human Rights Council.
Separately, I have initiated a number of Global Appeals to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy. The third of these was launched this January at the Royal Society of Medicine in London. This time, I sought the endorsement of leading organizations from the non-leprosy world. Thus I was delighted when nine international bodies, which together represent the interests of children, the elderly, women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, joined The Nippon Foundation in giving Global Appeal 2008 their wholehearted support.
This offers tremendous encouragement to the movement to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Building on this, I believe that we must find common cause with many more such organizations so as to forge a broad coalition of interests to secure our objective. Working together is the best way to overcome stigma in our society.
-Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador