Launch of Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation
Your Excellency Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, (Mr. Tarun Das, Chief Mentor, Confederation of Indian Industry, Ms. Syeda Imam, Creative Director, Contract Advertising Company) excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for your presence here today to commemorate the start of the Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation.
I am very aware of the great responsibility this foundation has to help people affected by leprosy in India. Over the years, our two countries have developed close ties in many fields. This year marks the 50th anniversary of an India-Japan cultural agreement. This anniversary may well serve as a milestone.
Since World War II, both countries grew rapidly. They became major economic powers in Asia. Now they wield global influence. By forging even stronger links, I believe India and Japan can do more. Together, I believe our two countries can contribute to solving problems such as hunger, disease and inequalities in education.
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A disease I am closely involved with is leprosy. For 40 years, I have been working to eradicate it from the world. India has been a key battleground in this fight. The partnership between government, health workers, and people affected by the disease has been crucial.
I always keep this in mind when I travel the country, visiting colonies and meeting people with the disease. In the last three years, I have come to India more than 20 times. This is the country where Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa did outstanding work for people with leprosy. Succeeding generations have been inspired by them. Their efforts have helped India to achieve the WHO goal, and eliminate leprosy as a public health problem. India’s achievement has been praised by WHO and others. It has given hope and encouragement to people fighting leprosy everywhere. It shows that leprosy is curable.
In fact, over 11 million Indians have been cured of leprosy since the 1980s.
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So you can imagine my disappointment when I see the miserable conditions in which many people affected by leprosy live. Once they are cured of the disease, they should live in happier circumstances.
Why do they not?
Many people affected by leprosy have been marginalized. They spend their lives stigmatized and excluded from society. Leprosy has a social aspect, not just a medical aspect. Although people can be cured of the disease, it remains in the form of stigma. They and their families are exposed to the prejudices of an ill-informed society. They can’t find work. Their children are denied an education.
Only when they are self-sufficient, and accepted by society, will they be truly free of leprosy.Two years ago, we helped to create a National Forum. This is a forum where leaders from leprosy colonies can make their voices heard. What they are saying is that they want opportunities to work, and to be part of society.
That is the purpose of the Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation. It will help create chances for people affected by leprosy–chances to find work, to participate in society, and to make their own way in life.
I also want the Foundation to spread a proper understanding of leprosy. And I hope this leads to a society where children of people affected by leprosy can go to school, just like any other children.
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In January 2006, I launched a Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy. It was released here in New Delhi. Eleven world leaders added their signatures to mine. They included Mr. R. Venkataraman, former President of India, and five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates:
Mr. Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica, Mr. Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States of America, The Dalai Lama, Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, and Mr. Elie Wiesel, President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.
In January 2007, leaders of people affected by leprosy from around the world joined me in issuing a second Global Appeal, this time in Manila. Now I am asking India’s corporations and citizens to join me in this mission.
Please help us to eradicate leprosy, and the social problems it causes. For my part, I shall continue to devote my life to this cause. I shall do so until people affected by leprosy everywhere are free from discrimination–and so truly free of the disease.