Leprosy Bulletin No.119 Ambassador’s Message: Doing everything we can to achieve zero leprosy

After six days of walking, Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa spread the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” banner on Mt. Kilimanjaro’s Gilman’s Point (5685 meters).

In 2006, I initiated the first Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. Since then, the Global Appeal has become an annual event, always scheduled to launch at around the time of World Leprosy Day. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) hosted the launch ceremony at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus signed the appeal. 

Dr. Tedros reminded attendees of WHO’s Global Leprosy Strategy 2021–2030, and stated, “I think all that we need to do is in the strategy. So from my side, representing WHO, I would like to assure Ambassador Sasakawa that we will do everything to support countries to eliminate leprosy by supporting them with the elimination strategy.” I felt tremendously encouraged by his words.

After the ceremony, I headed to Tanzania to attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I wanted to hold the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” banner at the top of Africa’s highest peak to raise awareness that persons affected by leprosy and their families are still facing stigma and discrimination and to urge everyone to take action to reach zero leprosy. Six grueling days of walking resulted in a successful summit on Feb. 12, and I raised the banner at 5,685 meters above sea level. I later found out that I set a record for being the oldest person with a disability to reach the summit – at age 85 and with a pacemaker in my heart.

Each new action renews my resolve to devote all that is left of my life to achieving zero leprosy. I am counting on every Leprosy Bulletin reader to join me in working toward this target.

Yohei Sasakawa
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination