ILA president stresses role of science in supporting the front line.
The International Leprosy Association (ILA) Regional Congress of the Americas and the 12th Brazilian Leprosy Congress were held concurrently in the city of Maceio from November 23 to 26.
The ILA and the Brazilian Society of Hansenology (SBH), the organizers, are among the oldest scientific societies devoted to leprosy in the world, and the event drew experts from as far afield as India and Japan for presentations covering everything from molecular biology and genetics to history and human rights.
Dr. Marcos Virmond, president of both the ILA and SBH, welcomed delegates at a packed opening ceremony on November 23. He told them it was the purpose of the congress to provide those on the frontlines of leprosy with better tools, and that it was the responsibility of scientists to come up with them. "I believe that the fight against leprosy will be won by those working in basic health services in the community. Keep this in mind during your daily work in the laboratory," he said.
From the health ministry, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa underscored in a video message Brazil's commitment to eliminating leprosy as a public health problem. "This is our obligation to the health of Brazilians," he said. For his part, WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa said that the medical and social challenges of the disease go hand in hand and must both be addressed if leprosy is to be overcome. He also noted that next year's Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy would be launched from Brazil.
Among those attending from overseas was Dr. Yo Yuasa, a past president of the ILA. Commenting on his stay in Maceio, he said: "The thing that struck me most is that the Brazilian Society of Hansenology is very active and its members are very committed. While the increasing lack of leprologists in other countries is a big problem, my feeling is that for the next 10 or 20 years at least, this will not be the case for Brazil."
Pointing out that most of those attending the conference were researchers rather than field workers, he added: "There's a question as to how much of what was discussed and debated at the conference will translate into activities in the field. That remains to be seen."