Global Appeal 2016 Launch Ceremony ~To End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy~

Tokyo, Japan

As you will have gathered from the video you have just seen, leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is a disease that has caused suffering throughout the long history of humankind—and not just the disease itself, but its accompanying stigma and discrimination.

“The discrimination is more painful than the disease” is what many people affected by leprosy say. The fact is, leprosy is still an issue today, and so is the discrimination it causes.

We began the Global Appeal in 2006. At the time, there was much misunderstanding about leprosy. Even among people with leprosy and their families, there were those who did not know that leprosy was curable and that treatment was free.

People with leprosy accepted it as their fate to be ousted from their home, divorced by their spouse, dismissed from their job and to endure severe discrimination.

In order to remedy this situation, we believed it was necessary to begin by telling those with the disease that leprosy had a cure and that the treatment was free. We went a step further and felt we must tell the world at large—not just people affected by the disease and those around them—about the injustice of discrimination. That was the idea behind the Global Appeal.

In order to deliver this message to as many people as possible in an effective way, each year we have been fortunate to have had the collaboration of different groups of experts. These have included medical and nursing professionals, who work closely with people affected by leprosy and their families, as well as lawyers who have agreed to work for the abolition of existing laws that discriminate on the grounds of leprosy.

The strong interest and sense of responsibility shown by these experts in different fields acting as our partners have been instrumental in spreading the message of the Global Appeal.

Thanks to the support of many people, our message also reached the United Nations, where, after seven years of effort, a resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members was adopted in 2010. This resolution has woken up the international community to its obligation to tackle the issue of leprosy-related discrimination. I am extremely grateful to those whose strong commitment made this possible.

Last year, the Global Appeal was launched from Japan for the first time. Today, there are no leprosy patients in Japan. There are almost no opportunities for members of the public to come into contact with leprosy in their daily lives. They have no knowledge of the severe discrimination that leprosy patients suffered in the past, and are hardly aware that there are people alive today who have never been able to return to their hometowns. Therefore, we decided to create opportunities for people to think and learn about leprosy through photo exhibitions, literary readings and lectures.

We received feedback from many young people who had no knowledge of leprosy up until that point. “This something we need to know about,” they said. “We want to know more.”

At the same time, however, there are also young volunteers who work in villages of people affected by leprosy overseas, helping to make their lives better. Encouraged by this, I felt a strong desire to appeal to the younger generation.

That’s why, this year, we are targeting the young people of the world in partnership with Junior Chamber International. JCI members are the future business leaders of the world and are actively involved in community issues. I would once again like to express my deepest gratitude to its members who have so willingly agreed to collaborate with us. I am very hopeful that opportunities to think about leprosy in different countries and regions will increase as a result.

It is truly reassuring that together with JCI members, our past partners have continued to give us their commitment.

Today, we are very honored to have with us representatives of the World Medical Association, International Council of Nurses, International Bar Association and the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee as well as the Forum of Parliamentarians to Free India of Leprosy. I would like to sincerely express my gratitude for your passion. I have no doubt that this ever-extending circle will become a huge source of strength in our fight against the discrimination that leprosy causes.

And to those who have been affected by leprosy, who have overcome the disease and fought against the unjust discrimination: your courage and persistence in continuing to fight have taught us the innate strength and tolerance of man. I truly respect your efforts and pledge my ongoing support.

Global Appeal 2016 will see photo exhibitions and symposia in different parts of the country. Overseas, there are plans to create opportunities for Junior Chamber International and people affected by leprosy to discuss leprosy issues.

I hope this opportunity allows more and more people to think about leprosy and focus on the issues together.

Let us join forces and together work toward a solution to the serious problem of leprosy discrimination.