Business leaders back leprosy appealFrom a public health to a human rights issue

MUMBAI, 25 January: Fifteen world business leaders from ten countries have signed the fifth Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination Against People Affected by Leprosy. Launched in Mumbai by Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy, the Appeal has been endorsed by the heads of major international corporations such as Fujio Cho, Chairman of Toyota, Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin, William C Weldon, Chairman and CEO of Johnson and Johnson, and Ratan N Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group.

In a message delivered at the launch ceremony, Sir Richard Branson said “I am pleased to be supporting the Global Appeal launched in Mumbai today. As business leaders we have a responsibility to reject discrimination in all its forms and encourage equal opportunities for all. I hope the Global Appeal will send out a strong message that prejudice and stigma cannot be tolerated in the workplace.”

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Yohei Sasakawa, who is also Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, paid tribute to the business leaders whose message “will be a source of inspiration to a great many people who want to be part of society and who are beginning to stand up for themselves. It will also help to deter the kind of outrageous discrimination that shuts off opportunities to people with the desire and the ability to work, simply because of a disease they once had.”

He mentioned a factory in Maharashtra, part of the Tata Group, “which employs people affected by leprosy. This is a great example, and one that needs to be followed in all countries. However, such factories are still few and far between. This case is but a candle in the darkness and, around the world, millions of people affected by leprosy and their families are struggling to find such a light.”

Mr Sasakawa pointed out that “leprosy became curable in the 1980s and, with the efforts of WHO, national health ministries and NGOs, there has been a dramatic drop in the number of new cases reported each year.

“But while leprosy is approaching the status of a rare disease, the problem of discrimination remains. Even after patients are cured, they and their families find that a thick wall of discrimination continues to block their participation in society.

“To knock down this wall, we must clear up misunderstanding. We must ensure that the public receives correct information about the disease. That it is curable. That it is not infectious once the patient starts taking the treatment. At the same time, it is perhaps even more important to tackle the prejudice that many people harbour deep in their hearts against those with leprosy.”

He added that “people with leprosy are stigmatised as not being useful to society. I believe one effective way to change that perception is for them to demonstrate that they can make a contribution to society and be economically self-reliant.”

– Ends –

Notes to Editors

  1. Yohei Sasakawa launched the first Global Appeal in January 2006, and was joined in the appeal by 12 world leaders including President Lula de Silva of Brazil and former Presidents Ramaswami Venkataraman (India), Mary Robinson (Ireland), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica) and Jimmy Carter (USA). The following year, the Global Appeal was endorsed by 16 leaders from communities affected by leprosy. In January 2008, in London, the Appeal was supported by organisations specialising in human rights and disability issues. Last year’s signatories were faith leaders including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican.
  2. This year, the fifth Global Appeal is being supported by leading figures from the international business community including Fujio Cho (Chairman, Toyota), Sir Richard Branson (Chairman, Virgin), William C Weldon (Chairman and CEO, Johnson and Johnson), Ratan N Tata, (Chairman of the Tata Group), Louis Schweitzer (Honorary Chairman and President, Renault), Keshub Mahindra (Chairman, Mahindra Group) and Mikio Sasaki (Chairman, Mitsubishi Corporation).
  3. Yohei Sasakawa spends almost one third of every year travelling around the world as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. He has held this position since 2001, and has also been appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of Persons Affected by Leprosy by the Government of Japan. Mr Sasakawa joined The Nippon Foundation as a trustee in 1981, served as President from 1989 and became Chairman on 1 July 2005.
  4. The Nippon Foundation’s overall objectives include assistance for humanitarian activities, both at home and abroad, and global maritime development. For over 30 years, The Nippon Foundation has been involved with the global campaign to eliminate leprosy working with the WHO, governments, international organisations and NGOs. One example of this work is the funding, between 1995 and 1999, of free multi-drug therapy (MDT) for every leprosy-affected person in the world