On March 21, I met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi. The security at the Prime Minister’s Residence was tighter than at the White House, but the atmosphere in his office was surprisingly relaxed. The prime minister was very well informed about the leprosy situation in India, and also about elimination activities. “Mr. Sasakawa,” he was gracious enough to say. “You have been an inspiration to India. You are doing noble work.” When I conveyed to Dr. Singh my three messages — “Leprosy is curable; treatment is free; social discrimination has no place” — the prime minister repeated them several times. Concerning the last of the three, he had a clear message of his own. “I am doing my utmost for the elimination of this disease, and am making efforts to redress the human rights problem faced by patients, recovered persons and their families.” I have heard Dr. P.K. Gopal, president of IDEA India, say, “Until now, patients and recovered persons didn’t regard the discrimination they faced as a violation of their human rights. They simply resigned themselves to their fate.” There are others who have said, “When I came down with leprosy, it was as if I left the caste I belonged to and joined the leprosy caste.” Now, after so long, recovered persons are breaking their silence and forcefully expressing their views. In February and March, workshops were held in Brazil and India on leprosy and human rights. Concurrently, a member of the UN human rights sub-commission conducted a fact-finding mission on discrimination. At both workshops, the main actors were recovered persons, who stated frankly that their lives were a history of being discriminated against as human beings. My wish to see them lead the fight is starting to be realized. When they speak out, they are the most persuasive campaigners for bringing about proper understanding of the disease. At last, the medical and social aspects of the fight against leprosy are in alignment. I sense the beginning of a new movement. Let’s seek the involvement of a wide cross-section of society, with recovered persons leading the way.
Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
Message:The Start of a New Movement
From the Editors:PEOPLE, NOT NUMBERS