WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa arrives in Geneva, Switzerland on May 23 for the 75th World Health Assembly, where he will call for renewed efforts against leprosy that have been disrupted by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the opening of the assembly on May 22, he was presented in his absence with the WHO Director-General’s Award for Global Health in recognition of his contribution to advancing global health.
In a short video message, Sasakawa expressed his gratitude for the prestigious award and invited delegates to join him on the last mile to end leprosy.
During his stay in Geneva, Sasakawa will be meeting with delegations from 18 countries, including those from India, Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh and Ethiopia that are among the WHO’s 23 priority countries for leprosy, to encourage their further efforts against the disease and the discrimination it causes.
Sasakawa, who is the chairman of The Nippon Foundation, has been a regular visitor to the World Health Assembly in his capacity as WHO Goodwill Ambassador, but this will be his first participation since 2018.
“Don’t forget leprosy” campaign rally by students in Tenali, India with banner featuring Mr. Sasakawa’s photo. Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, activities against leprosy in many countries have had to be scaled back. This has led to delays in detection and treatment of new cases, reflected in a 37% year-on-year decrease in new cases globally in 2020. If treatment is delayed, leprosy can cause progressive disability, and there are concerns that the number of patients with disabilities will increase in the future because of the disruption to leprosy services caused by the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also dealt a serious economic blow to individuals and communities of persons affected by leprosy, many of whom were already in a vulnerable position.
In light of the situation, Sasakawa initiated a “Don’t forget leprosy” campaign in August 2021 to send the message that leprosy and those affected by the disease must not be overlooked even amid the COVID pandemic. The campaign was scheduled to run until the end this month, but has been extended for another year due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.