As a previous issue of this newsletter already reported, Brazil, the only country yet to achieve the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem, gave a firm undertaking to do so at the World Health Assembly in Geneva in May this year. Under Brazil's new president, Ms. Dilma Rousseff, this effort is being overseen by Minister of Health Dr. Alexandre Padilha, and by an old friend and colleague, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa da Silva, secretary (vice minister) for health surveillance.
On November 28, during a visit to Brasilia, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Padilha and Dr. Barbosa to discuss their plans. Dr. Padilha told me that Brazil had made its intentions clear: eliminating Hansen's disease was at the top of the government's list of health priorities and that a budget for this had already been allocated for the next fiscal year. He assured me of the health ministry's strong commitment and said that Brazilians are united in wanting to address the issue.
A few days earlier, at the opening ceremony of the 12th Brazilian Leprosy Congress and International Leprosy Association Regional Congress of the Americas, Dr. Barbosa stated in a video message that the country is already close to achieving a prevalence rate of less than 1 case per 10,000 population at the national level. However, this was not sufficient, he said: Brazil aimed to eliminate the disease as a public health problem at the state and city level also.
To hear confirmation from the ministry of health's top officials of Brazil's resolve to tackle leprosy in this determined and ambitious manner was a major highlight of my visit.
I welcome Brazil's renewed commitment to take up leprosy elimination as a matter of urgency. Brazil has the resources and the personnel to go about this task, but all of us must be willing to offer whatever support and help is necessary. I sincerely desire to see Brazil succeed in this effort.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador