While in Geneva to attend the 61st World Health Assembly, I spoke with health ministers of the remaining countries still passing through the leprosy elimination stage. Mozambique’s minister of health told me that his country had eliminated leprosy as a public health problem at the end of last year, and that it had asked a WHO-ILEP team to verify the data, which it duly did. He said the government remains fully committed to further reducing the disease burden.
From the DR Congo’s health minister I was delighted to learn that his country is also at this important milestone, while from Nepal, recent developments give rise to cautious optimism. Following the general election there, I was told that the new cabinet has the elimination goal in its sights. Brazil is the only other country yet to clear the elimination phase, so I urged the health minister to redouble efforts to this end. He assured me of Brazil’s commitment, and accepted my offer to visit in November.
This month, the Japanese government is submitting a resolution to the 8th session of the UN Human Rights Council calling for an end to discrimination against people affected by leprosy and their families. This initiative received strong backing from the health ministers I met, and I also sought cooperation from nine ambassadors of HRC member states. On my return home, I secured the support of the presidents of Madagascar, Mali and Mozambique, and the prime ministers of Ethiopia and Niger, who were visiting Japan for an international conference on African aid and development.
Should the resolution pass, it will represent a significant breakthrough for all of us involvedin this fight, not least for people affected by leprosy themselves. But like the goal of leprosy elimination, it is not the end of the story. In order to create a truly leprosy-free world, we must not only wipe out the disease but also ensure that people affected by leprosy and their families enjoy full participation in society. This is the challenging goal that remains; let us move steadily toward it.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
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