Media Partnership Workshop on Leprosy
On February 7, in Chennai India (Tamil Nadu State), a media partner workshop was held for the purpose of raising awareness about leprosy among the local and state media. Shri Surjit Singh Barnala, governor of Tamil Nadu, was in attendance, as was Dr. P K Gopal, chair of IDEA India. The workshop was the sixth in an eight-part series being held around the country under the sponsorship of the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.
The one-day workshops are usually attended by 30-40 journalists, and are conducted by experts from the WHO, the state ministry of health, doctors and people affected by leprosy themselves. Journalists learn about leprosy as a medical disease, the national and global movements to eliminate it, and are sensitized to the terrible destructiveness of the stigma that enfolds it.
On February 7, though unable to attend, foundation chair Yohei Sasakawa sent the following message to the workshop in Chennai, which was then delivered to the people gathered there.
I would like to express my congratulations to the people of India on this extremely auspicious occasion: the government announcement that India has achieved the elimination goal. This is a milestone of historic proportions in our millennia-long journey toward the elimination of the disease.
The state of Tamil Nadu achieved its own elimination goal long ago, and I would like to pay my deepest respects for the intense efforts put forth by the people of this state.
As I said, elimination is a milestone in our struggle. But it is only a milestone. Our ultimate goal is to create a society without leprosy. A society without leprosy-related stigma.
I have visited India 18 times over these past three years, and each time I have emphasized three messages: leprosy is curable, drugs are free and available at health centers, and social discrimination has no place. The media has played a vital role in helping me spread these three messages to a wide public. The media’s role in India’s achievement of elimination was absolutely indispensable.
Two years ago, at a leprosy conference in Goa, it was reported that fifty percent of the Indian population knew these three messages. I am convinced that we need to continue this effort, in order to reach a full one hundred percent of India’s people. For that, we need even further cooperation from the media.
Since the early 1980s, as many as 11 million people have been cured of leprosy in India alone. However, these cured people are still suffering from terrible discrimination at society’s hand. I have been grappling with ways to help them regain their dignity.
As an initial step, last year I asked Dr. P.K. Gopal, of IDEA India, to conduct research on the current state of Indian leprosy colonies. This survey found that, throughout India, there are as many as 700 leprosy colonies.
I believe that leprosy-affected people living in these colonies have ability and a strong passion to work. However, in order for these individuals to actually gain work, Indian society needs to create mechanisms that will provide them with opportunities. Our task is this: to find ways to cooperate, so that these people can become independent and self supportive.
I am determined to start conducting fundraising activities, both in Japan and in India, in order to establish a foundation which will help those affected by leprosy themselves to identify how to regain their dignity and be reintegrated into society.
I will do my utmost to realize this plan, so that the problem of leprosy can be resolved in both medical and social terms in India, in the very near future.