Since last year, there have been a number of endeavors to stimulate those involved in the fight against leprosy in India to greater efforts.
A mid-term evaluation of the 12th Five-Year Plan of the National Leprosy Eradication Program has been carried out and the results are to be published soon.
In March, the annual conference of state leprosy officers took place in Delhi, organized by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. This was followed by a national stakeholders’ meeting jointly supported by the ministry, the WHO and The Nippon Foundation that brought together individuals and organizations, including the Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL), that are working on leprosy elimination and related human rights issues.
Together with APAL, what I and The Nippon Foundation are doing now in India is not only moving against the disease and the discrimination it causes but also seeking to increase pensions, enhance children’s education, provide microcredit and take other steps to improve living standards for people affected by leprosy and encourage social change. Speaking at the stakeholders’ meeting, I referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s Constructive Program for building a new India, in which he devoted section 17 of his manifesto to leprosy. I also quoted some words of his: “If you can transform the life of a patient or change his values of life, you can change the village and the country.” I sincerely hope our work can achieve this.
Last year I had the opportunity to meet twice with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On both occasions, I expressed my hope that he would take the lead in resolving leprosy issues. The prime minister, who is a native of Gujarat State — as was Gandhi — gave a positive response and I look to him to show the way.
I am getting on in years, but my determination to fight against leprosy is undiminished. I shall be happy if I can continue this fight alongside all concerned until my final moments. Let us put our backs into this work and get the job done.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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