AMBASADDOR’S JOURNAL: Kicking off 2024 from Geneva and Tanzania

In January, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa traveled to WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, for the annual Global Appeal to end stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. Soon afterward, in February, he visited Tanzania to raise the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” banner on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The Global Appeal is sent out every year by the Goodwill Ambassador in partnership with influential organizations and individuals from around the world. This year’s partner was the World Health Organization (WHO). The Goodwill Ambassador and Director-General Dr. Tedros together sent out the message that it is time to reinvigorate efforts that were stalled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and actively pursue zero leprosy.

Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa and Director-General Dr. Tedros reaffirmed their commitment to helping countries achieve zero leprosy.

As covered in the 110th issue of the Leprosy Bulletin, the Goodwill Ambassador climbed Japan’s Mt. Fuji in August 2022 to show his commitment to the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign. The success of the climb as an awareness-raising activity made him wonder about how he could do it again in a place where attention would matter even more. He decided to aim for Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is similar to Mt. Fuji in that it is also volcanic and freestanding, meaning that it is not part of a mountain range. Both mountains can be climbed without technical mountaineering skills. But Mt. Kilimanjaro is not just the highest mountain in Tanzania; it is the highest in all of Africa. Climbing it would be an opportunity to bring attention to leprosy throughout the entire continent.

Battling low oxygen levels and cold temperatures, the Goodwill Ambassador began the final leg of the ascent in the middle of the night. On Feb. 12, 2024, just before dawn, he reached Gilman’s Point (5685 meters), one of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s three summits. Amid rock and snow, he spread the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” banner in a message to the world.

After six days of walking, Goodwill Ambassador Sasakawa spread the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” banner on Mt. Kilimanjaro’s Gilman’s Point (5685 meters).
At the Horombo Hut campsite, a stop along the way down the mountain, guides celebrated with the Goodwill Ambassador.