Recently I travelled to Addis Ababa to attend a symposium on leprosy and human rights. Jointly hosted by The Nippon Foundation and Ethiopia's Ministry of Health, it drew some 200 delegates, including representatives of governments, international organizations, NGOs, organizations of people affected by leprosy and human rights experts. Of the 13 countries represented, eight were from Africa: Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, South Africa and Tanzania.
The purpose of the symposium was to raise awareness of the U.N. resolution adopted in 2010 on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families and to promote the implementation of its accompanying principles and guidelines. The Nippon Foundation is organizing a series of five symposia in different regions of the world; this was the third, following ones in Brazil and India.
The conference opened with a speech by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also chair of the African Union. In an address that gave hope and inspiration to all participants, he pledged his government's firm support for the resolution and guidelines.
The Ethiopian National Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy (ENAPAL) was well represented at the symposium. This organization is actively working to eliminate stigma and discrimination and embodies what the principles and guidelines are all about.
Among its members was Sinknesh, a 28-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with leprosy at the age of 12 and suffered severe discrimination from her family. She was kicked out of home and had to beg on the street. Thanks to ENAPAL's support she now works as an embroiderer and her life is full of hope. This is the kind of grassroots activism that I hope will spread across Africa.
To ensure that the U.N. resolution doesn't end up as mere words on paper, we have to keep working to see that the principles and guidelines are put into practice. Let us go forward together, hand in hand, and make this happen.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador