Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an ancient infectious disease that has challenged humanity across all national, philosophical, racial, and religious borders. With the universality of leprosy’s challenges in mind, I visited the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva for the first of many times in 2003, calling for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their families. These efforts culminated in 2010 with a UN General Assembly resolution and a related set of principles and guidelines indicating actions that should be taken.
When I visited various colonies in India with representatives from the Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL) to explain the resolution, an elderly man raised his hand and said, “I have been subjected to severe discrimination and never once was I recognized as a human being. Do people like me really have human rights?” Experiences like this convinced me that I must fight for a world where no one doubts that they have human rights.
In recent years, the number of people’s organizations has been increasing and existing organizations have been strengthening. Even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, these organizations are actively working to spread correct knowledge and eradicate prejudice and discrimination.
I am confident that persons affected by leprosy will continue to be actively involved in the fight against leprosy in their respective countries and their organizations will grow in influence. The rest of us must pay attention to what they have to say as they are the ones who have experienced the disease and the harsh discrimination that often comes with it.
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination