LETTER: Miss Supranational 2023 visits Iquitos, Peru

Andrea Victoria Aguilera Paredes
Miss Supranational 2023

Miss Supranational is an international beauty pageant that emphasizes natural grace and community service. Andrea Aguilera, representing Ecuador, won the crown at the 2023 competition. At this same competition, Miss Supranational and the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative launched a partnership to raise awareness of Hansen’s disease.

I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit Iquitos, Peru, to experience firsthand the work being done there by a phenomenal team. During my visit, I was deeply moved by the resilience and strength of the people I met, particularly Silvia, the leader of the association of persons affected by Hansen’s disease in Loreto.

In reflecting on her visit to Iquitos, Miss Supranational 2023, Andrea Aguilera, commented, “Now, more than ever, I understand that we should leave no one behind.”
Mister Supranational 2021, Varo Vargas, who is from Peru, joined Miss Supranational 2023, Andrea Aguilera, for her visit to Iquitos.

Silvia opened her heart and community to us, sharing the stories of around 70 individuals, each with their own unique experiences. Among them was Juan (name changed for privacy), a man whose bravery and perseverance touched me deeply. Juan shared how he was the only one in his family affected by leprosy, yet he found love, started a family, and his wife and children never contracted the disease. The stories were both heartbreaking and inspiring, highlighting the challenges they face due to their inability to work and the lack of support, even for basic medical needs.

One glaring issue that stood out to me was the absence of psychological care for these individuals. It was evident that something as simple as being listened to and acknowledged meant the world to them. This realization has reinforced my commitment to advocating for their cause and providing support wherever possible.

During our visit, I also had the privilege of meeting Dr. Ramal, a dedicated physician deeply invested in combating Hansen’s disease. His ambition to establish a laboratory for further research into the disease underscored the urgent need for greater awareness and resources in this field.

As a recipient and spokesperson for the stories of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, I am more determined than ever to work alongside the Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative and Miss Supranational to address the stigma attached to the disease. Together, we have already made strides in Brazil, and I am eager to continue our efforts to ensure that Hansen’s disease is no longer misunderstood or cause for discrimination.

My mission is clear: to eliminate stigmas, provide crucial information for early diagnosis, and ensure that those affected receive the physical and psychological care they deserve, enabling them to fully integrate into society. By amplifying their voices and advocating for change, we can make a tangible difference in the lives of those affected by Hansen’s disease.