AMBASADDOR’S JOURNAL: Goodwill Ambassador visits Bergen, Norway, and Dhaka, Bangladesh

Armauer Hansen International Film Festival

WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa made a whirlwind trip to Bergen, Norway, to attend the opening of the Armauer Hansen International Film Festival on Oct. 24, 2023. The festival was co-sponsored by the Bergen International Film Festival (BIFF) and the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the discovery of leprosy bacillus by Dr. Hansen.

In the afternoon before the official opening, the Goodwill Ambassador attended two screenings of The Last Mile: On the Road to Eliminate Leprosy, a documentary about his efforts directed by Naohiro Asano (2017), so that he could talk with high school students who were attending as part of BIFF’s School Program. Speaking with 48 students after the first screening and 56 students after the second, he answered questions about how leprosy is transmitted and the progression of the disease. Some of the students expressed surprise about issues that they learned about for the first time. He told the teenagers that he hopes that Norway, as a global leader in the field of human rights, will actively contribute to the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.

Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa answers questions from high school students along with Alexander Petersen, a project manager for the Bergen International Film Festival, following a screening of the documentary The Last Mile on Oct. 24, 2023.
A Bergen high school student takes a selfie with the Goodwill Ambassador after a discussion about The Last Mile: On the Road to Eliminate Leprosy.

Second National Leprosy Conference

The Goodwill Ambassador visited Dhaka, Bangladesh, to attend the 2nd National Leprosy Conference. On Nov. 11, 2023, the day before the conference, he appeared on a DBC News one-hour talk show with Dr. Ahamedul Kabir, Additional Secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Mr. Kamal Uddin, Chairman of the ALO Society, an organization of persons affected by leprosy. 

From left, Dr. Ahamedul Kabir, Additional Secretary of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Mr. Md. Kamal Uddin, Chairman of the ALO Society; WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa; and Ms. Fahmida Shompa, the news anchor who interviewed the guests as part of a one-hour talk show about leprosy on Dhaka’s DBC News on Nov. 11, 2023.

At the 2nd National Conference on Nov. 12, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gently joked to Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa, “I heard that you are going to attend the conference, and so I decided to attend as well.” Of course, her presence was actually the result of months of work by everyone involved in organizing the conference. The event helped to strengthen the relationships needed to eliminate leprosy from Bangladesh by 2030. The Goodwill Ambassador conveyed his desire to visit endemic areas to promote awareness.

WHO Goodwill Ambassador Yohei Sasakawa shares a light moment with (from left) Md. Jahangir Alam, Director General of the Health Services Department; Zahid Maleque, Minister of Health and Family Welfare; and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at Bangladesh’s 2nd National Leprosy Conference in Dhaka on Nov. 12, 2023.