Elimination of Leprosy

Traveling man: the Goodwill Ambassador shares a joke with two residents of a leprosarium in Krantau, Uzbekistan during a visit in 2013.

By External Source
May 29 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Warm greetings from Sasakawa Health Foundation in Tokyo.

The 100th Issue of the WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Newsletter has been published. Read special interviews with the Goodwill Ambassador and the UN Special Rapporteur on leprosy, and check out the Timeline of all that has happened since the first issue.

My Journey Continues

I started this newsletter in April 2003 to share information about the fight against leprosy. This marks the 100th issue. Over the years I have reported my views on leprosy elimination and activities taking place around the world. As I write, we are in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. I commend the tireless efforts of medical personnel and hope the outbreak will be contained as quickly as possible.

As Goodwill Ambassador I have visited some 100 countries and attach particular importance to three points: 1) going to see the situation for myself, listening directly to what people have to say and clarifying what the issues are; 2) making use of newspapers, TV, radio, social and other media to communicate correct information about the disease to people around the world; and 3) meeting with presidents and prime ministers to persuade them to actively tackle leprosy.

My motto is “knowledge and practice go together.” While I respect the insights and information contained in reports, I believe there is no substitute for checking the situation in the field with my own eyes as this represents a more direct route to finding real solutions. Therefore, I have made a point of traveling to remote areas where experts have not been in the belief that my words will be more persuasive and catch people’s attention.

Yohei Sasakawa visits Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2003 to raise leprosy as human rights issue, the start of repeated visits to Geneva.

In my lifetime I have met with 458 current and former presidents and prime ministers to explain about leprosy and request their cooperation. That number runs into thousands if I add ministers, deputy ministers and governors. Compared to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS, there are far fewer cases of leprosy. Unless you regularly engage with the person at the top, chances are the budget for the leprosy program will be cut.

What has left a lasting impression on me are my encounters with persons affected by leprosy who have found the strength to overcome the challenges they face. All over the world I have met individuals existing in unimaginably desperate circumstances, abandoned by their families and living on their own for many years. For some, there has been no other recourse but to begging to survive.

But in India, Indonesia, Brazil, Ethiopia and many other countries, persons affected by leprosy are making their voices heard and becoming increasingly organized. What they have to say carries more weight and is more persuasive than if I were to make 1,000 speeches. The role they have to play in advancing our efforts against the disease is particularly important.

Global Forum of People’s Organizations on Hansen’s Disease, Manila, Philippines in 2019. Participants underscore that Hansen’s disease is not just a health issue but at an issue of human rights.

As Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I have worked with governments over the years to achieve the numerical target that was set by the WHO of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, where elimination was defined as a prevalence rate of less than one case per 10,000 population. But achieving ‘elimination’ did not equate to no more leprosy. Elimination was a milestone.

In recent years, “Zero Leprosy” has been put forward as the goal. Many people have asked me if this is possible. My answer is that it doesn’t matter where the goal is; what is important is to keep heading toward it. No matter how long the tunnel, if you keep going you will eventually see the light at the end. Everyone just needs to continue their efforts.

My dream is for an inclusive society in which not only persons affected by leprosy but also persons with disabilities, minorities and other vulnerable groups suffering from social discrimination all have a place.

Hence this journey I am embarked on will continue. I do not know if the goal of zero leprosy and zero discrimination will be achieved in my lifetime, but I believe it will be realized one day and so I will continue to do my best to help us get there.

— Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador

(This is an extended version of the Goodwill Ambassador’s Message appearing in the print edition of Issue #100 of the newsletter.)


My Journey Continues

Special Interview I:
Our Goal Is Not Yet in Sight, Yohei Sasakawa, Goodwill Ambassador

Reviewing developments in leprosy over the course of 100 issues of the newsletter

Special Interview II:
Encouraging Signs, Alice Cruz, UN Special Rapporteur on leprosy

Leprosy and COVID-19

COVID-19 – UN Urges World Leaders to Act Now to Avert ‘Unimaginable Devastation’

COVID-19 has resulted in hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce -- 1.6 billion people -- left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. The setback in attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been tremendous and unless global leaders act now, the devastation will be unimaginable. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

COVID-19 has resulted in hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce — 1.6 billion people — left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. The setback in attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been tremendous and unless global leaders act now, the devastation will be unimaginable. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2020 – Unless global leaders act now, the COVID-19 pandemic will cause unimaginable suffering and devastation around the world, the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres said yesterday, May 28. He painted a picture of hunger and famine at historic proportions, with some 60 million people pushed into extreme poverty and half the global workforce — 1.6 billion people — left without work, and $8.5 trillion in global output lost. 

Guterres was speaking at an online event as world leaders and economists gathered at a high-level meeting to call for global solidarity and an acute focus on the interest of developing countries in the next steps for reviving the declining global economy. 

The talk, which focused on generating solutions to the development emergency resulting from the global pandemic, was co-convened by the U.N. Secretary-General, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

All three leaders highlighted the need to keep the concerns of developing and underdeveloped countries as a priority in the decision-making process. 

Guterres laid out six key areas of focus that need to be addressed going forward: 

  • enhance global liquidity;
  • preventing debt crises; 
  • engaging with private creditors on joint debt relief efforts; 
  • global financial systems and sustainable development goals; 
  • putting an end to illicit financial flows; and 
  • rebuilding in improved manners.

“Many developing and even middle-income countries are highly vulnerable and already in debt distress – or will soon become so, due to the global recession,” Guterres said, adding that alleviating debt should be considered for middle-income countries in addition to Least Developed Countries.  

The Secretary-General further lauded the preparedness shown by the Caribbean and Pacific islands’ “early and decisive action” that ensured them protection from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Holness highlighted the need for a “large-scale, comprehensive multilateral effort” to address the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We are determined to support countries, particularly those most in need,” Holness said. “Our goal is to not only relieve the hardship they are currently experiencing, but to enable them to recover better.”

Trudeau echoed the same thoughts, and echoed the notion that keeping intact the economies of developed countries are beneficial for developing countries who may depend on them. 

“Our citizens need to have confidence in international institutions that leave no one behind and are capable of overcoming global challenges,” Trudeau said. “We know that jobs and businesses in each of our countries depend on the health and stability of economies elsewhere.”

David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown of developed economies will result in poverty for 60 million people, highlighting issues such as reduced incomes for migrant workers and a drop in remittance flows. 

“Wide spillover from the pandemic and the shutdown in advanced economies hit the poor and vulnerable, women, children, and healthcare workers hardest, deepening the inequality from the lack of development and making the health crisis even worse.” 

He announced a “milestone” they reached last week, having approved their emergency health operations which is now running in over 100 developing countries embedded in this programme and framework for finance.

Going forward, he said, the team is taking up new support programmes that “in coming weeks will help developing countries overcome the pandemic and reclaim focus on growth and sustainable development”. 

Dr Donald Kaberuka, Special Envoy from the African Union, who also spoke at a panel afterwards, warned against the world resorting to an individualistic approach as they reel from the economic collapse of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“After the global financial crisis, every country went back to address their own problems. Global solidarity declined very quickly,” Kaberuka said. “We can’t afford to let this happen this time.”

Holness further announced that the next step will bring together the government, international financial institutions and other key actors, to play their role: to create a plan based on the issues discussed at the high-level meeting, to report back to their co-conveners three times over the course of the rest of the year.