Working to eliminate leprosy is a primary part of my responsibilities. I am also committed to seeing that the human rights of people affected by leprosy and their families are restored and that they regain their dignity.
My strategy to achieve this began in 2003, when I first approached the United Nations. In 2010, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on ending discrimination against people affected by leprosy, endorsed unanimously by 192 countries.
But the resolution will have no meaning unless it is implemented. To this end, I have initiated a series of symposia on leprosy and human rights in five regions of the world - the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The first symposium was held in Brazil in February and the second takes place in India this October.
The purpose of these symposia is two-fold: to draw the attention of governments and other bodies to the measures for ending discrimination outlined in the resolution's accompanying principles and guidelines, and to see that they are put into practice. Those attending include representatives of international organizations, governments, human rights bodies, NGOs and associations of people affected by leprosy.
A person living in a leprosy colony in India once asked me, "Do I have human rights too?" His question troubled me. To uphold and protect his rights and the rights of all people affected by leprosy, a multilayered, multifaceted strategy is needed. It is not enough to reach out to governments; it is necessary to appeal to the conscience of every member of society.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that universal human rights begin in the "small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world." So, while we must encourage international organizations and governments to act, spreading awareness at the grassroots level is even more important. I can only do so much on my own, but with your cooperation, moving forward together one step at a time, we will make progress.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador