In May I went to Geneva for the 62nd World Health Assembly. While there, I had meetings with two top leaders. One was Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization. The other was Dr. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who assumed the post last September.
Since the outbreak of the new strain of influenza, Dr. Chan has had a punishing schedule. Therefore, I much appreciated her presence at a small meeting on leprosy elimination. In response to my remark that the last mile of a 100-mile journey is the hardest, Dr. Chan recalled the lessons of small-pox eradication, when “energy, resources and political commitment” were needed to finish the journey. As for leprosy elimination, the director-general said that the “energetic, persistent and consistent global effort” of the goodwill ambassador would surely ensure the completion of this journey, too.
Dr. Pillay is a South African Tamil. Born in a poor neighborhood, she grew up to be a lawyer, courageously defending opponents of apartheid. She was elected Judge President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and has served as a judge on the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Throughout her career, she has stood up for the rights of the weak and oppressed.
She expressed surprise that leprosy had not been taken up as a human rights concern at the UN until relatively recently, and complimented the Japanese government for bringing the matter before the Human Rights Council. Her office, she assured me, would be following the subject closely.
Between them, Dr. Chan and Dr. Pillay grasp the medical and social issues surrounding leprosy and have demonstrated their unwavering support for eliminating the disease and rooting out stigma and discrimination. Hence I want to share their words of encouragement with national governments, NGOs, health workers, and of course people affected by leprosy and their families. Together let us walk the “final mile” and move nearer to our ultimate goal of a leprosy-free world.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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