18th International Leprosy Congress

Brussels, Belgium

I am excited to be here today, among so many friends and partners. We are scientists, health professionals, and representatives of various governments, international organizations, NGOs, and people affected by leprosy. We come from different fields of profession and from different parts of the world, but what has brought us together here today is our common purpose: to reach out to the last affected person to realize a world without leprosy and its consequences. Indeed, this unique conference gives us the opportunity to take a holistic approach to address our common challenges.

Since our last meeting in India five years ago, we have witnessed many positive developments. From the medical front, researches on development of new drugs, as well as new and improved methods of diagnosis and treatment have been underway. It is also remarkable that WHO has recognized people affected by leprosy as vital partners in their global strategies and this has led to their greater involvement in leprosy services. 

Furthermore, on the social front, in the year 2010, a resolution was passed at the United Nations General Assembly to eliminate discrimination against people affected by leprosy. The accompanying principles and guidelines state that people affected by leprosy and their family members should be treated with dignity and are entitled to all human rights and fundamental freedoms. We at The Nippon Foundation have been organizing a series of international symposia across the world to raise awareness of this UN resolution, and urge governments to put the principles and guidelines into practice. 

Yet, despite these positive developments, we still face formidable challenges. The priority of leprosy on government health agendas is declining; available resources such as experienced clinical expertise is shrinking; and fierce stigma and discrimination in society continue to inflict pain and suffering on people affected by leprosy and their families. I am sure all of you in this room will agree in facing these challenges, that there is no room for complacency.

Sharing this concern was the WHO, and our two organizations got together to organize the International Leprosy Summit this past July. It brought together top decision makers from endemic countries as well as global experts to acknowledge the challenges at hand and renew their commitments through the Bangkok Declaration. The declaration particularly emphasized the importance of focusing on high-endemic geographic areas and preventing the occurrence of disability through early detection.  

Securing political commitment from highly endemic countries is critical, but this alone cannot directly prevent further transmission of leprosy, nor can it directly change the lives of patients or those affected by leprosy. These challenges require the concerted efforts of all of us here at this Congress.

Each of us has a vital role to play; each of us is an agent for change. From the researchers determined to solve the mysteries of this biblical disease; to the health workers making their daily rounds to patients in remote villages; and the men and women who are taking a stand to get their voices heard and reclaim their rightful places in society.

For many of you experts in the field of medical science, continued research in your respective fields such as molecular immunology and genetics will be indispensable. At the same time, clinical expertise must be sustained in order to provide quality leprosy services which will prevent further transmission of leprosy as well as the onset of disabilities. For those of us working to rid the world of stigma and discrimination, we must continue our efforts to help people affected by leprosy achieve economic and social empowerment. We must also correct misconceptions and counter ignorance through awareness building and advocacy. 

And finally, and most importantly, it is vital to sustain a platform such as this congress, where experts from various fields can come together to share their findings, build networks and learn from each other to find innovative solutions for our common challenges.

The fight against leprosy is not over. Let us each do our part, and together, make a world without leprosy and its consequences a reality in the nearest future. 

Thank you.