Opportunity to raise awareness and promote human rights
As the founder of the International Leprosy Union (ILU), Dr. S.D. Gokhale, who died in January aged 87, brought empathy, erudition and eloquence to the anti-leprosy movement.
Although he was not medically qualified, he was an internationally renowned social scientist who looked at leprosy in all its aspects. This was reflected in the goals of the ILU, which he established in Pune, India, in 1986: "While the goal is to eliminate and if possible eradicate leprosy, the focus will be on the individual affected by leprosy, to help them regain their lost dignity, recognize their human rights and bring them back into the mainstream of society."
The media-savvy Dr. Gokhale, who edited a newspaper and authored many books, also recognized the important role that news organizations have to play in demystifying the disease. The second goal of the ILU, therefore, was to use advocacy and develop media involvement "to help demolish stigma and (the) stigmatizing environment," while educating people affected by leprosy, their families and the communities around them.
The ILU was also ahead of its time in its determination to put people with leprosy in charge of their own destiny, with its third and final goal being "to work towards the empowerment of people affected by leprosy so that they can participate in decisions affecting their lives."
Recalls Dr. Yo Yuasa: "I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Gokhale since the late 1970s and he always treated me as a close coworker in leprosy. Our greeting was not a handshake but a hug.
"His great contribution was to see leprosy as a general medical and social issue, and not as a unique problem all of its own, as had been the case in the past. In order to solve current and future leprosy challenges, we are going to need more people like Dr. Gokhale."
In a distinguished career, Dr. Gokhale also founded the International Longevity Center-India and the Community Aid and Sponsorship Program. He served as a consultant to the United Nations, UNDP, UNICEF, the WHO and the Government of India
Dr. Gokhale was the recipient of many awards, including, for his outstanding contribution to leprosy work, the International Gandhi Award (1998) and the Sasakawa Health Prize (2006). We mourn his passing.