The Goodwill Ambassador joins schoolchildren participating in a leprosy awareness campaign in Jharkhand, India, on February 2, 2018. (see page 7)
The 13th Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy was launched from New Delhi on January 30, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s martyrdom and the date that India marks as Anti-Leprosy Day.
This year’s appeal was supported by Disabled Peoples’ International, a cross-disability organization active around the globe. Founded in 1981, it is committed to the protection of the rights of people with disabilities of any kind and to their full and equal participation in society.
Although the DPI’s activities are extensive, Global Chair Javed Abidi says there hasn’t been sufficient collaboration between the disability and leprosy communities to counter deep-seated prejudice toward persons affected by leprosy, nor has leprosy been taken up at disability meetings. It was as if people affected weren’t recognized as disabled.
That said, there has been some overlap between developments in the disability movement and the efforts I have led to address leprosy’s social dimension. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, several declarations and resolutions relating to the rights of persons with disabilities were passed at the United Nations. In 2010, meanwhile, a resolution was adopted on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, accompanied by principles and guidelines.
But none of these were legally binding. Therefore, the disability movement pressed on and in 2006 achieved the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has transformed the situation. While it is not necessary for the leprosy community to follow exactly the same path, I believe it indicates the direction it ought to be moving in.
My aim is to realize an inclusive society in which no one is left out—be they persons affected by leprosy or those with any other disability. Making use of this year’s Global Appeal, I wish to promote further awareness of leprosy, respect for human rights and progress toward a world without discrimination.
I have since learned the sad news of Mr. Abidi’s passing. His untimely death is a loss for the disability rights movement. Let us ensure that the collaboration between the disability and leprosy communities that he was helping to foster forms part of his legacy.
- Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador