Mr Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy and Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy, has called for an end to the common use of the word leper.
Speaking at the launch in London of the fourth Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination Against People Affected by Leprosy, held to coincide with World Leprosy Day, he said that the word carries the meaning of a pariah, or social outcast.
Mr Sasakawa said that people affected by leprosy have demanded that the term not be used. Unfortunately its use continues to this day in the news media, including the UK media, impacting on the dignity and human rights of people with the disease.
This year's Global Appeal has been publicly supported by religious leaders, appealing to the power and influence of religion to change deeply discriminatory attitudes in society as experienced by people affected by leprosy. Sixteen religious leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, the Chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulamas, the Chief Rabbi of Israel and the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care at the Vatican, have signed the Appeal.
Mr Sasakawa, who is also Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, pointed out that since an effective cure became available in the mid-1980's, 16 million people have been cured of leprosy worldwide. But, if we include family members, perhaps as many as 100 million people face leprosy-related discrimination in some form, often on a daily basis.
In June 2008, the UN Human Rights Council has unanimously adopted a resolution to eliminate stigma and discrimination against leprosy-affected people.
However, in contravention of the resolution, several countries including the United States and the United Kingdom have regulations restricting the issue of work or residence permits to people with leprosy.
Mr Sasakawa said that removing discrimination from society requires the co-operation of society's most influential members. Therefore I ask the religious leaders who have signed this year's Global Appeal to convey its message to their believers and followers.