WHO Sasakawa Health Prize Award Ceremony

Geneva, Switzerland

This is the 27th year of the Sasakawa Health Prize. It was established in 1984 in response to the WHO’s Health for All initiative.

This prize recognizes ongoing and innovative work in primary health care. It is awarded on the premise that the work will evolve and continue to make a contribution to health.

For a healthy life, two components are needed. One is medical action, which gives patients the treatment they need. The other is social action, to help patients and their families lead meaningful lives.

This year’s winners are doing just that in relation to two major diseases that confront humankind: cancer and HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Eva Siracka established the Slovak League Against Cancer in 1990. Today, she is being recognized for her lifelong contribution to cancer research and prevention, awareness raising, and care of patients and their families.

The Pequena Familia de Maria, of Panama, works in the field of HIV/AIDS. In collaboration with government agencies and universities, the association offers a comprehensive program of physical, emotional and spiritual care that enables those with HIV/AIDS to lead dignified lives. As part of its activities, it also builds clinics and homes for child patients and offers counseling services.

What their activities show is that both medical and social approaches are important. This is something I emphasize in my life’s work, the elimination of leprosy. In leprosy, there is an issue that cannot be ignored – discrimination and stigma. This affects not only patients, but also those who have been cured, and even extends to their family members. The degree of the discrimination and stigma has made social integration difficult. Treating the disease is just the start. The social component must also be addressed. This includes generating community awareness.

This year’s prize winners support people with cancer and people with HIV/AIDS, as well as their families. They do this from both a medical and social standpoint. In this, we have much in common and there is much I hope to learn from them. With our common goal of realizing health for all, I hope we can keep in touch and continue to exchange information. I congratulate Dr. Siracka and the Pequena Familia de Maria, and I commend the selection committee on their choice.

Lastly, I would like to a say a few words about how vital our primary healthcare networks are. As you know, two months ago, Japan was struck by a severe earthquake and tsunami. The destruction and the emotional strain wrought on people in the affected regions are simply beyond words. The extremity of the situation has spotlighted the importance of robust primary healthcare networks. Without them, without such initiatives as Health for All, it is simply impossible for people who have lived through a disaster to maintain even a minimum standard of living. Japan’s plight is revealing, in a very concrete way, just how crucial our work is.

This disaster has shown us how helpless we can be in the face of the immense power of nature. And it has also become evident from the damage to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima that our technology is far from invincible.

But we have been encouraged by the resilience and determination shown by the people in the stricken areas. The people in these areas are already taking steps toward rebuilding their communities and lives.

Also, we have been greatly encouraged by the tremendous goodwill, support, and assistance that poured in from all around the world almost as soon as the disaster struck. Please let me conclude by expressing our heartfelt appreciation to the international community for these humanitarian actions.