President Macron’s and Italian Interior Minister Salvini’s rhetorical use of “leprosy” dismays WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa

Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, has expressed his concern over recent remarks by President Macron that likened rising nationalism to “leprosy” and a retort by Interior Minister Salvini that used leprosy as a metaphor.

According to media reports, President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech on June 21, “I’m saying to you in the gravest terms: Many hate it (Europe) but they have hated it for a long time, and now you see them (nationalists) rise, like leprosy, all around Europe, in countries where we thought that they would never reappear.”

In response to President Macron’s remark, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini of Italy used the expression that “we may be leper populists.”

Mr. Sasakawa pointed out that such remarks promote misconceptions, draw on deeply ingrained negative stereotypes of leprosy, and perpetuate discrimination against people affected by the disease and their families. He is writing personal letters to President Macron and Interior Minister Salvini, and copies of the letters will be delivered to the Embassy of France and the Embassy of Italy in Tokyo.

Mr. Sasakawa said that any remark of a national leader has widespread influence. As reported in various media, this metaphor has been repeated in political debates across nations. Mr. Sasakawa requests that all national leaders be sensitive in their choice of language.

Despite the fact that the disease is now completely curable, people affected by leprosy in some parts of the world continue to suffer stigma and discrimination.

To uphold the human rights of those affected by leprosy, in December 2010, the UN General Assembly unanimously, including France and Italy, adopted a resolution approving principles and guidelines on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

Mr. Sasakawa added “I would like to ask President Macron and Interior Minister Salvini to reflect on the situation of those affected by leprosy and help to promote the principles of the UN resolution.”


  • The above does not reflect Mr. Sasakawa’s position on any related political issues.
  • The Nippon Foundation organized an international symposium to dispel leprosy-related discrimination, organized jointly with the Vatican, in 2016. The symposium’s Conclusions and Recommendations included a call not to use the pejorative term “leper,” and not to use leprosy in a metaphorical sense as a term of contempt.
    For further information on the symposium and the full text of the Conclusions and Recommendations, please visit the “Interfaith Appeal to Eliminate Discrimination” page of our website.