On September 5, Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed in Dhaka.
During the meeting, he shared his idea of holding a second national conference on leprosy in Bangladesh by the end of the year with the participation of the prime minister, who expressed her willingness to attend.
It was at the first national conference in 2019 that Prime Minister Hasina set the goal of zero leprosy for Bangladesh by 2030—zero disability, zero discrimination, zero disease (see report). Since then, awareness-raising campaigns, case-detection activities, support for people with leprosy-related disabilities and educational support for children from leprosy-affected families have been carried out in pursuit of that goal.
“I remember as if it was yesterday that Your Excellency attended the first national conference four years ago and spoke passionately about achieving zero leprosy in Bangladesh by 2030. This had a profound impact on international efforts to combat leprosy, and your stance served as an inspiration to many national leaders in countries where leprosy is endemic,” said Mr. Sasakawa.
Given the disruption to leprosy services worldwide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past three years, he said that by putting in an appearance at the second national conference, Prime Minister Hasina would be giving hope and courage not only to those affected by leprosy in Bangladesh but around the world.
Noting that general elections are scheduled to take place in Bangladesh in January 2024, the prime minister said she would need to take account of the election schedule, but added, “Personally, I would like to participate in the second national conference on leprosy.”
She told the Goodwill Ambassador that although various steps are being taken to eliminate leprosy in Bangladesh, there is still stigma and discrimination against the disease, as well as against persons affected by it, “so we recognize that this conference also has a role in raising awareness.”
Those attending the meeting included Md. Tofazzel Hossain Miah, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr. Masud Bin Momen, Foreign Secretary, Dr. Takahiro Nanri, Executive Director of Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative and Ambassador Kiminori Iwama of the Embassy of Japan in Bangladesh.
Prior to his meeting with Prime Minister Hasina, on September 4, Mr. Sasakawa held meetings with Dr Bardan Jung Rana, WHO representative to Bangladesh; Zahid Maleque, Bangladesh Minister of Health and Family Welfare; and Dr. Md. Anowar, Secretary of the Health Service Division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Bangladesh.
Under the leadership of the Goodwill Ambassador, the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative will continue to work closely with the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and other organizations to realize the second national conference on leprosy in Bangladesh.