Global Appeal 2006 Launch Ceremony ~To End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy~

New Delhi, India

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have worked to eliminate leprosy for more than 30 years. It has been a long journey. In that time, the most decisive fact has been the development of MDT. The Nippon Foundation has contributed to MDT’s free distribution, and since the early 1980s, 113 countries have achieved elimination. Fourteen million people have been cured. Today, we stand right on the doorstep of our goal.

Only nine countries are still endemic. And yet, though all of these people have been cured of leprosy, their lives have not improved. They are still isolated. They are still mistreated.

Discrimination still divides. As long as this discrimination remains, elimination has not truly been achieved. It took me a long time to realize this fact, and I have only recently begun to tackle it.

In 2003 I visited the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. As a result, in August 2005, the Sub Commission resolved unanimously to study this problem. However, the United Nations does not move quickly. It will be years before it can take the necessary action.

But people affected by leprosy have already endured too long a history of stigma. We cannot wait any longer. We must end this discrimination now. We must correct peoples’ misperceptions today.

For this reason, I spend more than 120 days each year, traveling to endemic countries. On those visits, I meet with political leaders, journalists, medical workers, and those affected by leprosy themselves. I always deliver three messages: leprosy is curable; treatment is free and; discrimination has no place.

My message must reach entire societies, but what I can do by myself is very limited. My voice does not carry far enough. And so today, I am drawing on the influence of the people whose voices bear the most weight. People like President Venkataraman, and others whom I have known for years. I am deeply grateful for the support of these leaders. It fills me with new hope.

Today, we twelve are standing together to appeal for an end to a terrible history. A history of discrimination toward leprosy patients, cured persons and their families.

And so, without further ado, I present to you, our Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy.