WHO Sasakawa Health Prize Award Ceremony

Geneva, Switzerland

I am delighted to introduce this year’s winner of the Sasakawa Health Prize: the Center for Training and Education in Ecology and Health for Peasants in Mexico. The Center has done remarkable work, improving the health and nutrition of the disadvantaged indigenous population in Mexico.

The Center collaborates in the creation of conditions for a better exercise of the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous people. It takes a holistic approach and the work ranges from creation of health care systems, enhancement of health education, mobilization of volunteer community health workers, to even generating agro-ecology programs.

The Center has successfully realized the ideal of “Health For All” in all of the communities it serves. It is thus a great pleasure to honor the Center’s accomplishment and present the Sasakawa Health Prize.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Looking at the world as a whole, however, this shared goal is still far from being realized. Many people still have no ready access to health services. There are even those who are discriminated against because of the disease from which they suffer. The latter is an issue I am personally fighting, as the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy.

Leprosy is one of the oldest diseases known to mankind. Only very recently has a cure become widely available. However, since multi-drug therapy was introduced on a global scale in 1985, more than 14 million people worldwide have been cured. Over the same period, global prevalence of the disease has fallen by almost 90 percent. In 1985, leprosy was a public health problem in 122 countries. Today, only 9 remain.

WHO’s target for leprosy elimination as a public health problem in every country of the world is December of this year.

As WHO Goodwill Ambassador, I visit the endemic countries to meet with political leaders, health authorities and front-line health workers to encourage them in their efforts to achieve elimination. I also appeal to the media and those in the non-leprosy community to spread the three messages that “Leprosy is curable,” “Treatment is free,” and “Social discrimination has no place.”

The WHO’s director general, Dr. Joon-Wok Lee, began his career in leprosy research. Dr. Lee has maintained his strong interest in leprosy elimination and vigorously supports our activities. In every endemic country, the WHO office works tirelessly for elimination in cooperation with governments and NGOs. As you can see, much work is being done towards the elimination of the disease.

However, the problem of discrimination remains.

Last August at the 56th Meeting of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, a resolution was unanimously adopted to further investigate the state of discrimination against people affected by leprosy. Responding to this, numerous cured persons have stood up and started to make their voices heard.

At last, leprosy is being tackled simultaneously on two fronts—as a medical disease, and as social issue involving discrimination.
“Health For All” must include the right not only to enjoy a healthy life but also the right not to be the object of unreasonable social discrimination because of illness. I am committed to fighting leprosy as well as the social discrimination it engenders, and I take this opportunity to ask for your kind understanding and support.

As I conclude, I would like to once more congratulate the Center for Training and Education in Ecology and Health for Peasants. The Center is a shining example of good health care in action. It is also showing us how important dignity is to health.

It is my deepest wish that this honor will advance the Center’s activities, further contributing to the health and happiness of Mexico’s indigenous population.

Thank you.