INITIATIVE NEWS: Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative welcomes new program advisors

The Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative is a strategic alliance that coordinates the activities of the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, Sasakawa Health Foundation, and The Nippon Foundation for the purpose of achieving a leprosy-free world. The Initiative is pleased to announce that Dr. Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju and Dr. Alice Cruz have joined the team as program advisors. Dr. Pemmaraju has decades of experience with leprosy control that is balanced by awareness from time spent with persons affected by the disease. He will be providing the Initiative with advice on medical issues. Dr. Alice Cruz has held the mandate for Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members since it was first established by the Human Rights Council in 2017. She will be advising the Initiative on programs related to social and human rights. With great appreciation for their expertise, the Initiative warmly welcomes them both. 

Program Advisor for Medical Issues

Dr. Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju

As an epidemiologist and Acting Team Leader of WHO’s Global Leprosy Programme, I contributed to the development of effective global strategies for elimination of leprosy. Patient-centered approaches were introduced while developing technical guidance to improve quality care. The inclusive approach followed in interacting with national programs, partners, and persons affected by leprosy helped improve rapport with all stakeholders.

I started my leprosy work as a field medical officer in the early 1980s in a remote village of southern India. I soon realized that “pills alone” cannot treat leprosy completely. My interactions gradually increased with persons affected and I learned to address leprosy from both medical and social perspectives. My research covered areas of development of field-friendly nerve function assessment protocols and appropriate footwear for prevention of disabilities for persons affected by leprosy. Facilitating meaningful and effective participation of persons affected by leprosy remained my passionate approach. I involved persons affected throughout my work, and true to my conviction, global strategies and technical guidance protocols on leprosy care got enriched significantly with their inputs. My work has been very much influenced by Mr. Yohei Sasakawa and I continue to draw inspiration from his work.   

I gladly accept the opportunity to work as part of the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative team with heartfelt gratitude, and I look forward to contributing to the cause of leprosy with all enthusiasm and commitment.

Program Advisor for Human Rights Issues

Dr. Alice Cruz

Last June, I presented my final report to the Human Rights Council as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy (Hansen’s disease) and their family members. The Human Rights Council is currently selecting the next Special Rapporteur, while I am preparing to hand over the mandate to my successor. Being the Special Rapporteur was the greatest honor of my life and I experienced unforgettable moments alongside so many people worldwide. But it was also just another step in my personal path as an activist for the human rights of persons affected by Hansen’s disease. Besides being a scholar engaged with Hansen’s disease, I have also been a volunteer in MORHAN, the Brazilian organization of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, for many years. I feel extremely grateful for the amazing opportunity to be a human rights adviser to the Sasakawa Health Foundation, a highly trusted organization among persons affected by Hansen’s disease, and hence to continue contributing to the community. I hope that the in-depth knowledge I have gained over the years can be helpful to advance the human rights of persons affected by Hansen’s disease at the subnational, national, and international levels. I look with great joy to the special opportunity of continuing to work for the empowerment of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, the strengthening of their representative organizations, and the global enforcement of their rights. I embrace this opportunity with sincere gratitude, heartfelt enthusiasm, and deep commitment.