WHO Sasakawa Health Prize Award Ceremony

Geneva, Switzerland

We are here today to honor the outstanding achievements of this year’s recipient of the WHO Sasakawa Health Prize: The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka. For more than fifty years, the Association has conducted family planning promotion campaigns with great success. From the 1990s, it also became actively involved in a wide variety of other issues, ranging from adolescent reproductive health, to gender, to female employment.

The enjoyment of a healthy life is one of the most basic of human rights. This concept forms the basis for this award. In developing countries, however, issues such as a lack of finances, infrastructure or human resources sometimes makes it difficult for people to achieve this right. Sri Lanka is a diverse country with many ethnicities, religions, and languages. However, it has experienced over thirty years of ethnic conflict and farmers’ revolts. Civil war has created more than a million refugees in the country. The good news is that military conflict ceased in 2002. Non-violent conflict resolution has been making steady progress since then.

In spite of these difficult circumstances, the Family Planning Association has contributed to the improvement of health and family planning among internally displaced persons. It is my great pleasure to honor the Association for its outstanding achievement and present them with the Sasakawa Health Award.

The question of the right to health, is an important issue, being dealt with not only by WHO, but also by the UN Human Rights Commission. It is also something that I personally am working on as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination.

In this capacity, and as president of The Nippon Foundation, I have been pushing toward elimination for more than thirty years. Today, only about six endemic countries remain. Leprosy, you see, has become curable, thanks to the development of multi-drug therapy. I am convinced that, by the end of 2005, we will have reached WHO’s goal: elimination in every country of the world.

However, in no country has elimination brought a change in social attitude. Leprosy has been the most feared of diseases throughout human history. Its victims have been the ultimate outcasts of society, forced to lead lives that denied their very humanity.

For this reason, last March I approached the UN Human Rights Commission about this problem. There, I addressed the member states on the issue of leprosy and human rights. It was the first time that the commission had ever taken up this issue. Leprosy is a major problem that spans much of the globe. If we include the families and relatives of the affected, there are tens of millions of people suffering from discrimination.

However, the commission had never touched the subject because the people affected by leprosy have been forgotten by society. They have often even been abandoned by their own families. With their names and identities stripped away, they cannot cry out for their rights. They have been silenced.

The right to health includes the right to enjoy a healthy life. But it also covers the right to be free from disease-related social discrimination. I am determined to continue my fight against the disease, as well as the discrimination that accompanies it.

I would appreciate your kind understanding and support for this work.

In closing, I would again like to congratulate the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka on being awarded the Sasakawa Health Prize. I have no doubt that this award will help the association further enhance its activities and contribute more to the health and happiness of the people of Sri Lanka.

Thank you.