Leprosy Bulletin No.120 Ambassador’s Message: Pursuing zero leprosy in Asia and Africa

Chair Morizo Ishidate greets Prince and Princess Takamatsu at the opening ceremony of the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (Tokyo, Japan, 1974).

The Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF), established in 1974 under the umbrella of The Nippon Foundation for taking action toward a leprosy-free world, will mark its 50th anniversary on May 4, 2024. SHF’s first chairman, Morizo Ishidate, was a former professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Tokyo known for being the first person in Japan to synthesize Promin, a drug treatment that kickstarted the transformation of leprosy into a curable disease.

During the 50 years that SHF has been operating, much has changed. Drugs for treating leprosy are now distributed free of charge throughout the world, and the number of patients has plummeted. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to eliminate discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members, and awareness that leprosy is a human rights issue has spread worldwide. I am proud to say that I played a small role in achieving these milestones.

However, the fight against leprosy continues. Leprosy cases are still appearing in nearly 140 countries, and there are many more cases that remain hidden. Persons affected by leprosy and their family members are still forced to cope with unjustifiable stigma and discrimination. Because of the impact of COVID-19 and other factors, I am concerned that we will not reach WHO’s targets for 2030. As Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, I will do what I can to direct resources to the achievement of these targets. As the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and the Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy, I am completely committed to realizing a leprosy-free world.

Yohei Sasakawa
WHOGoodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination