WHO Sasakawa Health Prize Award Ceremony

Geneva, Switzerland

Before I begin, I would like to express how deeply saddened I am by Director General John Wok Lee’s sudden death. He and I worked together on a number of occasions, and during that time, I came to feel that he was not only a great friend of humankind, but on a more personal level, my own companion in the fight against leprosy.

His parting is a terrible loss for us all.


Ladies and gentlemen, this year is the twenty-second anniversary of the Sasakawa Health prize, which was established in response to WHO’s Health for All initiative.

The aim of Health for All is a society where all people are able to enjoy a healthy life. The initiative of course wants to build societies in which medical diagnosis and treatment are available. Equally importantly, however, is the creation of social environments that promote a healthy life. Our Health for All vehicle cannot move forward unless both the medical wheel and the social wheel are working equally well. Continuous work at the community level is of the utmost importance.

The Sasakawa Health Prize aims to identify and honor the contributions of outstanding organizations and individuals working to improve primary health care in both the medical and social fields.

This year, two organizations have been selected that for decades have worked to create just such environments. I would like to express my deep gratitude to WHO and all of the members of the screening committee for choosing organizations that fulfill the ideals behind this award so exceptionally.

The Agape Rural Health Programme, represented by Dr. E.C. Miguel, is an organization that works to improve the health situation of rural communities in the Philippines. For 20 years, they have been practicing holistic health care that emphasizes awareness and prevention. Their work has focused on the circulation of basic knowledge that can help people to lead healthy lives. Through their tireless efforts, they have trained four thousand community leaders and professional volunteers. Even more excitingly, these people have then passed on their knowledge and experience, benefiting a further fifty seven thousand people.

The other winner of the award is the International Leprosy Union, represented by Dr. S.D. Gokhale. This organization has worked for 20 years to bring those affected by leprosy back into society. To the ILU, leprosy is a social illness. Its efforts have centered largely on India, where it has striven toward two goals. It aims both to correct the public’s perception of this disease, and to empower and reintegrate those affected by leprosy.

Leprosy has been feared for thousands of years. This fear has forced people affected by the disease to live with terrible social prejudice and discrimination, even after they have been cured. Yes, leprosy is curable. However, both those who contract it and their families are often isolated from society. They have been silenced by fear that to speak out would only worsen the discrimination. And so the International Leprosy Union seeks to empower such people, to help them to speak up for themselves, and to gain the strength to change society’s perception of leprosy. For many years they have tirelessly organized cured people in order to disseminate correct information about leprosy. The ILU believes that these efforts will help speed up the detection of new patients, taking a huge step toward the elimination of social stigma.

Last year, India achieved the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem. This was a historic achievement. However, the fight against stigma is still underway. I have great expectations for the International Leprosy Union as they continue striving toward the eradication of both the disease and its discrimination.

Both recipients of this year’s award are working with societies, trying to heighten social awareness of disease, and to correct the misperceptions that so many have. Sick people of course have the right to be cured. However, in places where basic health services are insufficient, it is also vital that people have a basic understanding regarding disease. Further, it is necessary to educate societies so that, even if a person becomes sick, he is not subjected to unjust discrimination.

I would once again like to congratulate these two organizations. It is my hope that this award will stimulate them to further advance their activities. That it will thus contribute to the general health and happiness and make a difference in society.