REPORT: International Symposium at the Vatican on Hansen’s Disease held in Rome in January

On Jan. 23-24, 2023, the International Symposium at the Vatican on Hansen’s Disease was held at the Augustinian Patristic Institute (Augustinianum) in Rome on the theme “Leave No One Behind.” The Symposium was co-hosted by the Fondation Raoul Follereau, Italian Association Amici di Raoul Follereau (AIFO), and Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative, in cooperation with the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, as part of the Initiative’s “Don’t Forget Leprosy / Don’t Forget Hansen’s Disease” campaign launched in 2021.

In addition to being part of the campaign, the event was conceived as follow-up to a symposium titled “Towards Holistic Care for People with Hansen’s Disease, Respectful of Their Dignity” that was held at the same venue in 2016. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries and organizations worldwide have struggled to provide the holistic care that was hoped for six-and-a-half years ago. 

This year’s symposium gathered around 130 health and human rights experts, organizational representatives, and persons affected by Hansen’s disease (leprosy) or other neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), altogether from 24 countries, to discuss actions needed to achieve “zero leprosy” and realize a society in which no one is left behind. 

Prayers and the reading of a written message from Pope Francis opened the event. Greetings from organizers and invited dignitaries followed, and included video messages from Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. 

The morning of the first day ended with the launch ceremony for the 2023 Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy. Initiated in 2006 by WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa in his role as chairman of The Nippon Foundation, the Global Appeal brings attention to leprosy-related discrimination and aims to generate momentum for an inclusive society. This year’s Global Appeal declaration was endorsed by the organizers and participants of the Symposium and read by Miss World Brazil 2022, Letícia Cezar da Frota, who has been using her platform to act as an ambassador for the fight against Hansen’s disease in her country.

The declaration from this year’s Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against
Persons Affected by Leprosy was read by Letícia Cezar da Frota, Miss World Brazil 2022.

In the afternoon, participants considered the theme “Toward Zero Leprosy” through two panel discussions, one focused on disease and disability and the other covering stigma and discrimination. 

On the second day, the morning sessions addressed the broader theme of “Toward Realizing a Society in Which No One Is Left Behind.” Participants heard directly from persons affected by leprosy, who described their experiences during the pandemic, and from leaders of religious organizations, who shared some best practices.

The final sessions of the two-day gathering offered “Recommendations and suggestions on how to move forward from the conclusions and recommendations adopted in 2016.” 

Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa captured the overall message of the Symposium when he told participants that the COVID-19 pandemic must not be used as an excuse; everyone must work together to realize a world free of leprosy where no one is left behind.

Video recordings from the Symposium have been posted to the Global Appeal website.

Organizer representatives joined hands to symbolize their commitment to working
together towards zero leprosy.