June - July 2007
International Gandhi Award for Yohei Sasakawa
Wardha, Maharashtra, India, 12 April: Mr Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon
Foundation, received the International Gandhi Award for 2006 from India’s
Vice-President, Shri Bairon Singh Shekhawat. The award – described as
one of India’s highest honours – is made every three years by the
Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation, which was established in 1951 to perpetuate
the memory of Mahatma Gandhi’s abiding interest in the control and eventual
eradication of leprosy.
The award – ten of which have now been conferred – is given to
an individual or institution that has made a significant contribution to ‘improving
the quality of life of leprosy affected persons and helping them to lead normal
lives in society.’ Vice-President Singh Shekhawat chairs the award committee
which includes a number of senior Indian government ministers.
Mr Sasakawa was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination in 2001
by the World Health Organisation (WHO). He has devoted his life to the elimination
of the disease while combating the social stigma and discrimination associated
with it. An estimated 100 million people are still victims of this discrimination.
Speaking at the ceremony in Wardha, Maharashtra State, Yohei Sasakawa said
that “from eliminating leprosy as a public health problem, we are moving
toward eradicating the disease altogether. But leprosy has another aspect;
a social aspect. We still have a long way to go before the stigma and discrimination
associated with the disease have been banished. Until then, people affected
by leprosy will not truly be free of it”.
The Vice-President described Mr Sasakawa as an “exceptional man of our
times in the field of leprosy eradication”
“Today”, he said, “the biggest challenge we face is the integration
of the leprosy-cured persons into society’s mainstream. A large number
of leprosy-affected people, after they are cured, remain poor and below the
poverty line… they are denied their fundamental right of life with dignity”.
On World Leprosy Day 2006, in New Delhi, Yohei Sasakawa led eleven world leaders
including former US President Jimmy Carter, the Dalai Lama and former President
Venkataraman of India, in issuing the first Global Appeal, calling on ‘people
all over the world to change their perception and foster an environment in
which leprosy patients, cured persons and their families can lead normal lives
free from stigma and discrimination.’
On 29 January this year, in Manila, Mr Sasakawa joined 16 representatives of
people affected by leprosy in a Global appeal calling for the restoration of
their dignity and recognition of their inherent human rights. As the Global
Appeal 2007 stated: ‘Denying the inherent human rights of anyone on the
basis of disease is indefensible. Discrimination can never be justified. Silence
on this issue is not acceptable.’
Leprosy is among the world’s oldest diseases. If left untreated, it
can result in severe deformity. Only in the 1980s did an effective cure become
available – multidrug therapy, MDT. More than 15 million people were
subsequently cured of the disease.
Cases of leprosy are still found in many countries, though currently less than
300,000 people develop leprosy each year. India, which accounts for 70 per
cent of the world’s leprosy cases, has achieved WHO’s target in
eliminating leprosy as a public health problem (less than one person in 10,000).
However there are still over 700 leprosy colonies in India which help to perpetuate
the myth, the stigma and the discrimination.
Yohei Sasakawa has concentrated much of his efforts on India, visiting more
than 20 Indian states in the campaign against discrimination. In 2006, he established
a new foundation in India, the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation, to assist
in the economic independence and social rehabilitation of leprosy-affected
people in the country. In 2001, he was given the Millennium Gandhi Award by
the International Leprosy Union – presented by former President Venkataraman
Since the 1960s, The Nippon Foundation has supported leprosy control efforts
in many countries. From 1975, as a key partner of WHO, it began to take an
active effort to eliminate leprosy as a public health problem, including a
five year programme to provide free MDT to every country in the world. Since
2003, when Yohei Sasakawa first approached the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion
and Protection of Human Rights about the social discrimination suffered by
people affected by leprosy, The Nippon Foundation has actively focused on the
social aspects of the disease.
The first International Gandhi Award was presented in 1986. The award was last
given, in 2003, to Dr H Srinivasan, the reconstructive surgeon who has devoted
his 34 year career to correcting deformities of leprosy-affected people. In
2000, the winners of the award were ALERT in Ethiopia and India’s Dr
K V Desikan, now the Chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation.
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