World Health Organization (WHO) Health-for-All Gold Medal Award Ceremony

Geneva, Switzerland

It was my aim to achieve leprosy elimination during Dr. Chan’s tenure, but as you all know, we still have a little further to go. Therefore, when I learned I was to receive an award from WHO, I was sure it would be a silver medal at most, but to my greatest surprise it is the gold medal!

I would like to share the honor and joy of having been awarded this medal today with everyone I have worked with.

For forty years, The Nippon Foundation and WHO have had a strong partnership. The Nippon Foundation has worked together with WHO as its principal donor for leprosy control. Our financial support for the free provision of drugs in the second half of the 1990s had a major impact in helping to bring down the number of new cases of leprosy. With Novartis now providing drug security, we have been able to use our funds for other initiatives, such as measures to address stigma and discrimination.

It then come to my mind that leprosy can be linked to a motorcycle. The front wheel represents the medical approach to cure the disease, and the back wheel represents the social approach to eliminate stigma and discrimination. The motorcycle cannot move forward unless the two wheels move together.

Receiving this gold medal, there are three things that I, as WHO Goodwill Ambassador, would like to share with you because I believe they make a significant difference.

The first concerns directly approaching political leaders of endemic countries and getting their commitment. When I visit these countries, I am often surprised at how little political leaders know about leprosy in their own country. Some claim they have no leprosy. Or others have only outdated knowledge. So, I talk to them about the disease and seek their commitment to tackling it. I have found that the commitment of political leadership adds momentum to efforts taking place elsewhere on the ground.

The second point concerns promoting correct understanding among the general public through the local press and radio as well as popular culture. Because, in some areas, written communication is difficult, I have found that street theater, music and entertainment can be more effective in conveying the message that leprosy is curable, treatment is free and discrimination has no place.

The third point concerns forming sustainable initiatives. As Goodwill Ambassador, I have been bringing together governments, medical professionals, NGOs, health workers, organizations of people affected by leprosy and other stakeholders. In doing so, I have realized the importance of encouraging those affected by leprosy to play a major role, speak out and build relationships with those in government. This communication leads to empowerment of those affected by leprosy and sustained commitment from the government.

The discussions this morning once again underscored the importance of controlling and eliminating Neglected Tropical Diseases(NTDs) so as to break the chain of poverty and realize sustainable development.

In closing, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. Margaret Chan’s leadership over the past 10 years.