On January 27, 2015, the annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy is to be launched from Japan for the first time. In this article, Tatsuya Tanami, executive director of the Nippon Foundation, provides some insights into the foundation’s long involvement in leprosy-elimination activities and discusses the significance of holding the Global Appeal event in Tokyo.
Working to Overcome the Human Rights Challenges Posed by Leprosy
The Nippon Foundation issued the first Global Appeal in January 2006 in Delhi, India, coinciding with World Leprosy Day.
Tatsuya Tanami, who took part in the discussions between the signatories of the first appeal and Nippon Foundation Chairman and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa, recalls the build up.
“In 2005, the year before the first Global Appeal was launched, India achieved the goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, something that many people said would be impossible.
“The first Global Appeal, and all those that have followed, framed the problems that people affected by leprosy face in terms of human rights. We turned for support to internationally renowned figures, drawing on the personal network of contacts built up over the years by Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa.”
“These included people with whom he had worked together with on various initiatives, such as former US President Jimmy Carter, as well as many who had participated in the ‘Forum 2000’ conferences that Chairman Sasakawa and former Czech President Václav Havel had hosted annually since 1997 in Prague. At these Forum 2000 conferences, Chairman Sasakawa go to know many of the participants personally. He also used the opportunity to deliver speeches on leprosy and human rights and spread awareness of the disease. In this way, he was able to gather together an impressive and well-informed list of signatories for the Global Appeal.”
“Global Appeal” Sparks New Activities
The Global Appeal is issued every January, on or near World Leprosy Day. Signatories have included a wide range of individuals and groups, including national groups representing persons affected by leprosy, international human-rights organizations, faith leaders, business leaders, 110 university presidents from 64 countries, medical and legal organizations around the world, as well as organizations that are exerting a positive influence on overcoming discrimination associated with leprosy or that have a keen interest in this issue. The 10th Global Appeal is being endorsed by the International Council of Nurses and national nursing organizations around the world, whose members work at the frontline of healthcare and who by their selfless example can show the way to a discrimination-free world.
Tanami points out that for some organizations, participating in the Global Appeal marked the beginning of their practical activities to end discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Furthermore, it has also given a boost to the efforts of people affected by leprosy to achieve social reintegration.
“One of the positive outcomes of the past ten years of issuing the Global Appeal is how people affected by leprosy in various countries now have the confidence to speak out publicly, and how organizations representing them have been strengthened. Another significant outcome has been that various international NGOs have become more aware of the issue of leprosy. The International Bar Association, which joined the Global Appeal 2013, is engaged in an effort to repeal discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy that remain in various countries. And the human rights institutions that participated in Global Appeal 2014 have begun to include leprosy on their agendas.”
Preserving the Memories of People Affected by Leprosy
Issuing the 10th Global Appeal from Tokyo represents a new departure, as Tanami explains:
“Up to now, the Global Appeal has been issued in countries where there is considerable interest in leprosy because of the large number of patients that exist—countries such as India, Brazil, or Indonesia—or in an international media hub such as London. This also reflects our activities as the Nippon Foundation, in that we have focused our leprosy elimination efforts on endemic countries. But while Japan sees virtually no cases of leprosy today, the disease has a long history in this country, and one that saw people who came down with the disease isolated for life in sanatoriums.”
“Today, the remaining residents of these sanatoriums have an average age of more than 80 years old. There is not much time left for them to share their experiences with the rest of the world. It is for this reason that we were eager to host the 10th Global Appeal in Japan, to enable them to participate in the event, interact with people affected by leprosy and their supporters from other countries, and convey their feelings to the world. Issuing the appeal is also a way to keep their memories and history of the disease alive.”
“Most young Japanese people today probably do not know anything about leprosy. But it was only a few years ago that a hot-spring resort in Kumamoto Prefecture refused to accommodate people affected by leprosy. This sort of thing can happen in countries that still see lots of cases of leprosy, but the fact that it happened in Japan shows that discrimination still exists here too. I hope the Global Appeal will give young people pause to think about the existence of discrimination that they may not normally see. While it has not been the primary goal of the Global Appeal to generate awareness in Japan, I think the 10th appeal provides an excellent opportunity to bring the issue of leprosy, discrimination and human rights to the attention of Japanese public.”
The Struggle Continues
The Nippon Foundation remains committed to anti-leprosy activities, conveying the message that leprosy is curable and treatment is free, and working toward the goal of a world without leprosy and the discrimination it causes.
“There is still a long way to go. Moving forward, it is important for us to team up with international organizations and individuals to convey our message and to reach those who have yet to be reached. At present, every country but Brazil has eliminated leprosy as a public health problem, but within countries there are still difficult-to-reach populations in remote areas or in urban slums, and it is vital that they too have access to information and treatment.”
“We want to make it clear that leprosy is a curable disease and discriminating against people affected by it is unacceptable. We will continue our efforts until leprosy and the discrimination it causes are no more.”