National Leprosy Conference

New Delhi, India

First of all, I would like to congratulate Dr. Kumar, Dr. Arif and the Organizing Committee for holding this important conference, which is to renew our commitment to achieve a “Leprosy Free India.” This, I know, is the common goal we all share.

When we study the history of leprosy in this country, we learn that it was the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who dreamed of eradicating this disease from India. That great responsibility has now been handed down to us.

It was in 1991 that the World Health Assembly set a goal of eliminating leprosy as a public health problem. It aimed to reduce the prevalence of the disease to below 1 case per 10,000 population. This gave countries a target to aim for.

At the time, few thought it would be possible for India to achieve this target, because India had so many cases of leprosy.

But India astonished the believers. Through the efforts of the health ministry and all concerned, India reached this milestone at the end of 2005.

I well recall how this was seen as nothing short of a miracle. India was justly praised by the international community for its achievement.

But the fact remains that India still has the highest number of leprosy cases in the world, accounting for over 60% of all new cases. There are still medical and social challenges to overcome.

The Indian government is taking these challenges seriously. It is deploying a nation-wide Leprosy Case Detection Campaign (LCDC) campaign for early detection and treatment of new cases, which are both extremely important.

The elimination that India achieved in 2005 was just a milestone. The end goal is a Leprosy Free India where no more people suffer from leprosy and its consequences. I have the deepest admiration for what India is seeking to achieve and the ambitious approach it has adopted.

I see this conference is an opportunity for all of us—government officials, international and national NGOs, researchers and not least, persons affected by leprosy—to reconfirm our commitment, and discuss the most effective action plan to reach this goal.

I pledge to redouble my efforts.

Taking this opportunity to speak before you at this conference, I would like to talk a little more about my own role and commitment.

Both as WHO Goodwill Ambassador and as chairman of The Nippon Foundation, I emphasize awareness-raising to eliminate the stigma attached to leprosy.

Since 2006, The Nippon Foundation has organized an annual Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, endorsed by individuals and organizations with global influence.

Next year’s Global Appeal will be launched here in New Delhi on Anti Leprosy Day, January 30, 2018. It is being endorsed by Disabled People’s International. I extend a warm invitation to all of you to attend.

In closing, I wish this important conference every success. Let us get down to work!