Every year, the last Sunday in January is commemorated as World Leprosy Day. The day was started by the late Raoul Follereau to raise awareness of the disease. On January 27, 2013, World Leprosy Day will be observed for the 60th time. My own initiative, the annual Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families, which I launched in 2006, is also held around this time.
The French journalist, poet, lawyer and philosopher Raoul Follereau engaged in a wide range of causes. He is one of the humanitarian activists I respect the most. In particular, the deep love and fellow feeling he showed people affected by leprosy make him a true embodiment of love for all mankind.
In an era when the disease was still incurable and there was no magic bullet such as multidrug therapy (MDT), Follereau dedicated himself to his mission. We must recall, too, that transport and communications back then were not as convenient as they are today. He gave hope and courage not just to people affected by leprosy but also to so many others involved in leprosy work. In 1954, the year he started World Leprosy Day, he wrote to the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union, asking them to donate the cost of one bomber apiece to the treatment of leprosy patients.
There have been other great individuals as well, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Baba Amte, who devoted themselves to fighting the disease – and the stigma and discrimination – before there was an established cure.
Today we live in very different times. Medicine has advanced. Now we have MDT. With early detection and prompt treatment, people can be saved from the stigma and discrimination they might otherwise face if the disease proceeds unchecked. So as the 60th World Leprosy Day approaches, let us recall the efforts of those who have gone before us and take further strong steps forward in the fight against leprosy.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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