Leprosy Bulletin No.121 Ambassador’s Message: Take advantage of our window of opportunity

Ryoichi Sasakawa (left) stands with Dr. Halfdan Theodor Mahler (right) at an event in Tokyo. Dr. Mahler served three terms as the Director-General of the World Health Organization from 1973 to 1988. The flag of Denmark in the background acknowledges Dr. Mahler’s nationality.

I have compared the fight against leprosy to a motorcycle, with the front wheel representing efforts to control the disease and the back wheel indicating actions to eliminate discrimination. As the Goodwill Ambassador, I try to keep both wheels moving. I also leverage my roles as the Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy to accelerate progress.

Next year, 2025, will mark 50 years since The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and the Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF) began supporting national leprosy programs through the World Health Organization (WHO). To date, the foundations have given approximately US$200 million, but more than the amount, I think that it is the consistency of support, maintained over half a century, that has made a difference. Humanity is now closer than ever to ending leprosy.

Unfortunately, in many countries, the motorcycle stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic. To pick up the pace again, ministries of health will have to redouble their efforts. I will be thinking about how I can use my position as Goodwill Ambassador to help them.

To gather momentum for the last mile, the Leprosy Bulletin is kicking off a six-part series featuring experts from various fields who have worked with TNF/SHF in the past. In addition to asking them to share their memories, the Bulletin is soliciting their ideas about what needs to happen now in order to achieve a leprosy-free world. I hope you will join me in heeding the call of our first expert, Dr. David Heymann, to take advantage of our “window of opportunity.”

Yohei Sasakawa
WHOGoodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination