”We human beings should not repeat the same mistake.”
In 2019, I made 27 trips abroad in various capacities. But this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not had the opportunity to travel overseas as Goodwill Ambassador since my trip to India at the beginning of February to visit Delhi and Gujarat state. In the more than 40 years I have been fighting leprosy, this is the first time my activities have been brought to a standstill, and it is most regrettable. But I am optimistic that the day will soon come when I can fully resume my work to eliminate leprosy from the world. In the meantime, I know people at the frontlines are doing the best they can under the circumstances and I commend their efforts.
While many countries have had to suspend casefinding and other activities because of the measures they have taken against the novel coronavirus, that doesn’t change the fact that many persons affected by leprosy and their family members remain socially vulnerable. Many belong to the poorest stratum of society and have been severely impacted by the pandemic, including loss of livelihoods. Governments have taken some steps to assist them, and I would ask that they consider doing more.
I think it is important too that persons affected by leprosy take the initiative to help themselves. I look back on the efforts of the Association of Persons Affected by Leprosy (APAL) in India, an organization formed from those living in the country’s 750 self-settled colonies. In recent years, it has been successful in several states in obtaining special allowances for persons affected by leprosy following approaches to state premiers and health ministers. Based on my experience of contributing in a small way APAL’s establishment and assisting in its advocacy for the special allowances, I support the growing efforts of people’s organizations around the world to find solutions to their problems through their own actions, rather than just being recipients of assistance, and I am encouraged by the examples I see.
In the meantime, I stand ready to assist persons affected by leprosy to the extent that I can. Even from Japan, there are things I can do, so please don’t forget to count on me.
— Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador