The Nippon Foundation’s ‘Global Appeal 2019’ for action to end stigma against Leprosy patients

The 2019 Global Appeal initiative has been endorsed by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), a global network representing more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries

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New Delhi: Continuing its practice of bringing together different stakeholders to speak up against the baseless stigma and discrimination that is faced by persons affected by Leprosy, The Nippon Foundation in collaboration with Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) on 30th January organized their annual event Global Appeal 2019. The International Chamber of Commerce has endorsed this year’s global appeal.

The appeal was read in the presence of the Minister of Law and  Technology, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad and Mr John Denton, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce. It aims at bringing international attention to the stigma and unjust treatment that still affects those affected by this fully curable disease.

The endorsement of the Appeal by the International Chamber of Commerce is significant as the information about the true facts of leprosy viz it being a bacterial disease and among the least infectious of diseases; early detection and treatment avoids disabilities and that it is not hereditary will now reach all its members across the globe.

The major step in fighting stigma and discrimination is awareness and scientific knowledge. The launch of the Appeal in India further highlights the essence of the landmark Supreme Court Judgement of 14th September 2018 which exhorted the government to act on ending stigma against persons affected by leprosy by both more effective medical outreach and proactive initiatives for their social and economic integration.

India targets to be a leprosy free nation by 2030 and Mr Yohei Sasakawa WHO Goodwill ambassador and recipient of the Gandhi Peace Prize 2018 pledges to support the vision of Prime Minister Modi.

At a ‘Dialogue on Leprosy’, held as part of the Global Appeal 2019, discussion was focused on Justice Misra’s historic verdict on Leprosy and the way forward. The event saw presence of important stakeholder groups including Persons affected by Leprosy, Representatives from WHO, Representatives from Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Representatives from Ministry of Social Justice, TNF Members, NGOs and CII Members. The participation and coming together of different stakeholders to work together to further the recent commendable efforts made by the Ministries of Health, Social Justice and Law, was an important outcome of the Dialogue and will lead to significant changes in the social perception of leprosy and those affected by it.

In recent months, other than the Supreme Court judgment, the Ministry of Social Justice has taken concrete steps to ensure that the difficulties faced by leprosy affected both finger print and retina identification for Aadhar cards are overcome. The Ministry of Health has been making laudable efforts at early detection so that it can achieve the target of zero Grade II disabilities among new patients. Even though this effort could in the short run throw up larger numbers of those affected by leprosy, it will in the long run l interrupt the transmission of the disease resulting in lower prevalence and prevention of disabilities. The law Ministry too has taken cognizance of the discriminatory clauses in many laws and in the last session of the Lok Sabha, a bill was passed amending the Marriage Act. Now leprosy can no longer be accepted as a ground for divorce.

Calling for a Global Appeal and the need for a country wide program of awareness building, Mr Yohei Sasakawa said: “We are indeed proud of our annual initiative of Global Appeal, which has not only been able to make a difference to the lives of people affected by leprosy but also attracted the attention of respectable organisations such as the International Chamber of Commerce. I hope that all stakeholders present today, including the Media, will support us to win the war against leprosy. This will require a call to action to raise awareness in society by providing correct information about leprosy, including that it is a curable disease with free treatment available and that discrimination is unjustifiable.”

Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman Nippon Foundation, is also the Goodwill Ambassador of the World Health Organization for Leprosy Elimination. He has recently been awarded The Gandhi Peace Prize 2018, in recognition of his work towards the eradication of the disease in India and across the world.

In his opening remarks, Mr Tarun Das, Chairman – Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation, said: “It is time that the world wakes up to realise the need for coming together to fight the stigma against the Leprosy. An important element of the launch of the Global Appeal is the Inter-Chamber of Commerce. Up till now, leprosy has not attracted the attention of the influential corporate world and this is an important development. This year it is very encouraging to see critical stakeholders coming together and we are optimistic to work towards the Vision of Leprosy Free India by 2030”

Speaking about the ‘Global Appeal’ dialogue, Dr Vineeta Shanker, Executive Director of Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation said: “Social stigma and failure to detect cases early are hurdles in eradicating leprosy. There are known practical problems in detection, too. Hence, increased resource allocation towards leprosy awareness and control is imperative. In today’s age, it is a known fact that leprosy, if timely detected, is treatable and a person becomes non-infective within 24 hours of starting treatment. Actions and initiatives such as the recent Divorce Bill passed in Lok Sabha and this summit are part of the ongoing efforts to make the world a better place for such people. These steps are sure to contribute to the improvement of the overall social environment and the negative perception around leprosy.”

India has the highest number of annual new cases in the world, followed by Brazil and Indonesia. As per WHO report, India had accounted for 60% of the global total of new cases (2017): AS PER Global Leprosy Update 2017.

The event was inaugurated with children from a Delhi colony of leprosy-affected people singing along with popular Delhi singer Sonam Kalra.

The Global Appeal was first launched in New Delhi on 29th January 2006 with the backing of world leaders, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, His Holiness Dalai Lama, former US President Mr. Jimmy Carter, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Referring to the December 2010 UN resolution on eliminating discrimination against persons-affected by leprosy and their family members, the Appeal declared: “As national human rights institutions, we applaud the UN resolution and condemn all leprosy-related human rights violations. We pledge our support to help bring down the remaining barriers of stigma and prejudice that stand in their way.”

S-ILF was established at the initiative of Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy elimination.