Global Appeal 2020 ~To End Stigma and Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy~

Tokyo, Japan

Thank you very much for the introduction. My name is Yohei Sasakawa from The Nippon Foundation. I would like to extend my gratitude for such a large participation despite such a cold day. Thank you very much.

Prime Minister Mr. Abe and his administration is showing key interest towards leprosy. Since the diet is in progression at the moment, he will join us as soon as today’s diet session concludes. Minister of Health, Welfare and Labor, Mr. Kato, as well as President of Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mr. Yoshiro Mori, will join us later. Today we have with us the vice president of International Paralympic Committee Mr. Duane Kale and he has come all the way from Germany to join us today. We are now welcoming the 15th Global Appeal. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for the support and cooperation of each and every one of you.

40 years ago, I visited a leprosarium. Just because they had leprosy, they had been exposed to discrimination from society. At that time, I was enjoying life and I had not even known that such people lived in this manner until then. I felt a sense of lost hope from the people I met back then. I had a conversation with them and I felt the immediate need to take actions, thus I visited countries and regions around the world. Elimination of leprosy became my lifework mission.

I have visited more than 120 countries to date. From the jungles of Africa to a very isolated leprosarium in the deserts of Azerbaijan, as well as the backland of Amazon, I met and spoke to the residents of the leprosarium. Regardless of the fact that they were cured, they were still being exposed to extreme discrimination from the society. People would say it is about genes or some sort of punishment from god. Persons affected by leprosy could not marry or find work. In fact, they have the desire to work but they were unable to grasp that opportunity. I have met and seen many people living under these circumstances. Leprosy is misunderstood throughout the world. As a result many people are still struggling.

However, there is only so much that we could do. Therefore, I reach out to many leaders who can make difference to the world. I sought their support and that is why I had launched the Global Appeal. The first Global Appeal was supported by many people, including the nobel prize laureate, and they carried the message that injustice discrimination was being made. A strong appeal was made across the globe by the members of world medical association and members of international council of nurses, and even by more than 100 university presidents through their academia activities in order to disseminate proper understanding of leprosy. Throughout the world there are countries where injustice laws still exist. There are legislations that prohibit persons affected by leprosy to access public institutions and transportations, or even divorce unconditionally. To eliminate such laws and legislations, we have sought support of the international bar council as well.

More recently, during the Beijing Olympics, entrance of persons affected by leprosy was prohibited but we spoke with the Beijing city mayor and Olympic committee, as well as communist party heads and we issued memorandum documents to abolish this unfair law. Through such tremendous support, in 2010, along with the support from Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs, at the UN General Council Assembly, 193 countries unanimously voted to adopt the resolution on elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.

Even with such endeavors, we are still in need to continue our effort. This is the 15th year of Global Appeal, and as we all know, this is the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic year. Along with the International Paralympic Committee I am strongly encouraged that we can promote Global Appeal together. This is quite an honor and at the same time it will pay the way to new ground for the persons affected by leprosy and families around the world who are still struggling.

The performances that paralympians will show in Tokyo will greatly affect the people around the world and create a futuristic and inclusive mindsets. This will be an occasion to disseminate this important message. During such a memorable year, we can work together to fight against discrimination and stigma where every person’s right is respected. Working with the International Paralympic Committee will be an extreme support for us and it will be an epoch year for us.

As I mentioned, leprosy is curable. Medicine is free, and leprosy is just one of the diseases out of many. However from the time of old testament, leprosy is subjective to discrimination and it has caused misunderstanding amongst the population. I know that many of you already have deep understanding towards leprosy, nevertheless there is still misunderstanding that this is god’s punishment or contagious. Unfortunately on parts of society, there is prejudice, stigma and discrimination towards this phenomena. Society carries this disease of discrimination. By mitigating this social component of the disease, I believe that people with disability, especially those who were affected by leprosy, can create an inclusive society. In order to establish an inclusive society, I would like to ask for your continuous support and cooperation.

Thank you very much.