The Sasakawa Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) Initiative is guided by a metaphor frequently used by WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination (GWA) Yohei Sasakawa when he explains his vision for a leprosy-free world and how to achieve it. He speaks of a motorcycle with two wheels that need to turn at the same time in order to make progress. The front wheel represents all of the medical efforts that must be made to understand the disease, cure it, and prevent transmission. The rear wheel symbolizes awareness-raising and culture-change efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination and promote social inclusion.
In the Initiative’s vision, this motorcycle is heading toward a leprosy-free world where there is zero disease, zero disability, and zero stigma and discrimination—a world where even if the bacteria that cause leprosy still exist, there is no fear.
In talking about how far we have come and the distance that we have yet to travel, the GWA often uses the phrase “the last mile.” This is based on a Japanese proverb that cautions that the last part of a journey is the most difficult. If we look at the number of cases worldwide and the human rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members, we have already come quite far. Traveling the last mile to reach a leprosy-free world will require continued attention to both medical and social aspects of the disease and renewed commitment to working together.
hyaku-ri yuku mono wa kujūku-ri o motte nakaba to su.
A person who goes 100 miles should consider themselves halfway at the 99th.
It is an irony of progress that the closer we get to a leprosy-free world the more likely it is that we will forget parts of the journey. Since 2004, Sasakawa Health Foundation has been providing funding and facilitating discussions around the world to ensure that the journey is not forgotten. Preservation of buildings, artifacts, records, and oral histories now will support reflection and learning opportunities for generations to come.