Global Appeal 2017 Launch Ceremony 〜To End Stigma and Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy〜

New Delhi, India

It was about 40 years ago that I started on the journey to fight against leprosy. It began when I visited a leprosy hospital. Lying on their beds, the patients there showed no emotion. They seemed to have lost their will to live and that affected me deeply.

There was nothing that I could do but stand by and watch. I felt powerless to help.

I was never able to forget this visit and what I had witnessed there.
I felt that I had to do something to ease their suffering.

Later in the 1990s, after it became possible to cure leprosy with Multi-Drug Therapy, I, as the head of The Nippon Foundation, decided to make the drug available free of charge. As a result, the number of patients dramatically decreased. I began to see hope that leprosy could be eliminated.

But what I saw in leprosy colonies was so different from what I had expected.
Those who had recovered from the disease had nowhere to go but to live there. Discrimination against people affected by leprosy was still a persistent problem.

This was a problem that I could not ignore. A world without discrimination became the extended goal of this journey.

In 2006, The Nippon Foundation began to send a message to the world that there is no place for discrimination against people affected by leprosy. It has since become the annual Global Appeal that we issue together with a number of partners, including associations of medical and nursing professionals and future business leaders.

This year, it is very encouraging to have the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or IPU, join us on this journey and to issue Global Appeal 2017.

IPU is an international organization of representatives from more than 170 parliaments around the world. In Global Appeal 2017, IPU urges all Parliaments to promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.

As a matter of fact, eliminating discrimination against leprosy is a commitment that has already been made by most nations.

In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on the “Elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.” Each of the 193 member nations agreed to eliminate discrimination and to promote, protect and respect the human rights of those affected by leprosy.

I am sure that as representatives of the nations that approved the resolution, you will now play a major role in this effort.

Let me give you one inspiring example. Mr. Saber Chowdhury, President of IPU, who is with us today, led a successful struggle in Bangladesh to repeal a discriminatory law that had existed for over 100 years. I think that we will hear more about this from Mr. Chowdhury himself later.

Another good example of what can be done is here in India. Some members of parliament stood up to defend the human rights of people affected by leprosy and their families, improve their welfare and living conditions, and enable them to live in dignity. They established a forum of parliamentarians, and it now has about 50 members.

I hope that this Global Appeal with IPU will add momentum to these activities, encouraging parliamentarians elsewhere to undertake such activities in their respective nations.

On visits to leprosy colonies around the world, I have met many who are determined to lead a full life in spite of discrimination.

A man who was afflicted by leprosy as a young boy and had lived in a leprosarium for over seventy years once told me:

“Although I suffered terrible discrimination, I choose to forgive those who discriminated against me. And in doing so, I believe my life is enriched.”

Through the words of people like him, I have come to know the strength that we are capable of, even in the most desperate of circumstances.

Visiting colonies, I have also met those who now believe that they are entitled to have hope for their future and are moving forward, step by step.

And whenever I encounter the smiles of those who are beginning to have confidence, I feel that I want more people to witness their strength and the changes that are taking place.

Today, we have with us many who have recovered from leprosy. Some of you will share your experiences at the roundtable discussions this afternoon.

We have also with us many people from media. You have an important role to play in informing the public of what has happened, and what is happening now.

I hope active participation of everyone present today will carry the message of our Global Appeal to an even wider audience.

This fight against leprosy has taken me on a long journey of more than forty years.

This has been a journey with many fellow travelers: governments, international organizations, NGOs, partners who have endorsed the annual Global Appeal; and above all, those affected by leprosy.

We have come far. When we look at the elimination of leprosy, some might say; there is one last mile.

But the journey will not be over.

We will have to work toward a society without discrimination against people affected by leprosy.

It is our final goal. And there is no roadmap to follow.

It is likely to be a rough road.

But together with many fellow travelers and supporters, and with those of you who are joining us on this journey today, we will open up the way. We will move forward, step by step, in this struggle against leprosy.