Brazil is the only country yet to reach the WHO’s goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, defined as a prevalence rate of less than 1 case per 10,000 population. Recently I made my first trip to the country in four years because political circumstances in the intervening period had not lent themselves to a visit.
I was discussing the leprosy situation with President Bolsonaro when he suggested: “Let’s address the people directly.” He pulled out his smartphone and said live on Facebook: “Let’s eliminate leprosy from our country!” He also gave me, the health minister and the human rights minister an opportunity to speak.
The response was tremendous. In two days, the broadcast had been viewed 500,000 times and subsequently 730,000 times. Facebook became a new tool for raising leprosy awareness.
In my activities I not only offer encouragement to health officials and undertake plenty of radio and TV work, I also attach great importance to responding to listeners and viewers.
In Brazil I appeared on three TV programs and five radio shows and felt the keen interest there was in leprosy. Going forward, I would like to focus on having a nation’s top leaders carry out awareness-raising via Facebook, TV and radio as a way to reach out to the maximum number of people.
During my stay, I sensed a new sense of purpose. Health Minister Mandetta has treated leprosy patients in the past and pledged to actively engage in the issue.
Governor Dino of Maranhao state announced he wanted to reduce patient numbers by 90 percent in three years. Meanwhile, the federal government has agreed to hold a national conference on leprosy by March next year.
Under President Bolsonaro’s strong leadership, I believe the efforts of Health Minister Mandetta and others involved will lead not only to the elimination of leprosy but also to zero leprosy one day. I promised to make any number of visits to the country and am proud to work alongside Brazilian friends and colleagues in these efforts.
ーYohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador
WHO Goodwill Ambassador’s Newsletter No.96
Message: Back to Brazil
Human Rights: Special rapporteur focuses on women and children
Event: Seeking a people’s perspective
Viewpoint: Leprosy vs Hansen’s disease
History: Fontilles online portal
Book: Voices from Nigeria
Ambassador’s Journal: Brazil
News: Japan’s PM meets families
From The Editor: Helping Hand