Global Appeal 2019 ~To End Stigma and Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy~

New Delhi, India

I would like to extend my warmest welcome to all of you here at the 14th Global Appeal launch ceremony. This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. And today, January 30th, Anti-Leprosy Day, is observed throughout India as the day to commemorate Gandhi’s lifelong care and compassion for persons affected by leprosy while advocating inclusion and rejecting discrimination. I feel it is highly meaningful that we are gathered here together on this very day, for a common goal.

The national prevalence of leprosy has dramatically declined here in India in recent years due to the efforts of all the stakeholders. Yet it is an undeniable reality that India still accounts for 60% of new cases discovered worldwide today. For this, the Government of India under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi established an ambitious goal of making India free of leprosy as a disease and stigma by 2030. As WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Elimination of Leprosy, I welcome this plan. This plan echoes the words of Mahatma Gandhi who said: “Opening a hospital is an ordinary thing. You call someone to do it. I will come to close it.” For me, Prime Minister Modi’s plan expresses a strong commitment to ending the long history of leprosy and the suffering that has existed since the genesis of Laws of Manu, in about 200 B.C.

It is tremendously encouraging for me to make this Global Appeal together with the International Chamber of Commerce today. In 2006, in order to raise worldwide awareness, I first announced the Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy. Its message is threefold: leprosy is curable when detected and treated early, free treatment is available around the world, and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy has no place. This year marks the 14th Global Appeal. Over the years, this message has been endorsed and launched in cooperation with political, business, academic and religious leaders.

However, we must recognize that persons affected by leprosy still face stigma and discrimination throughout society. In the workplace, discrimination is particularly serious. Not only patients but also those who have been cured are dismissed, and denied employment. Affected by leprosy, they are deprived of the means to earn a living and an opportunity to participate in society.

The Nippon Foundation and the ICC uphold the principle that no one should be taken away the opportunity to work because of stigma and discrimination. As the 45 million member companies of the ICC share this principle, we hope the awareness that everyone deserves a chance to fulfill his or her potential will spread around the globe. This growing awareness will lead to increased employment for persons affected by leprosy, which in turn will build a solid foundation for an inclusive society.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of India, to those all over the world who are committed to supporting persons affected by leprosy, and to the ICC, Association for People Affected by Leprosy (APAL) and Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) for their continued support.

Let us ensure that our collective commitment will be a significant step toward elimination of stigma and discrimination against leprosy.

In closing, let me also take this opportunity to say how honored I am to receive the Gandhi Peace Prize. During my long journey to eliminate leprosy and its associated stigma and discrimination, I have been accompanied by many stakeholders who are committed to this common goal. I humbly receive this precious prize and in doing so I would like to recognize the support of various organizations and people who have worked with me over the years. Let us continue to work together! I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Prime Minister Modi and the Government of India.