WHO Goodwill Ambassador visits to uplift lives of people affected by leprosy in West Bengal

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Kolkata, 24th September 2013: Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Elimination of Leprosy & Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Japan, along with Shri Dinesh Trivedi, MP & former Railways Minister, visited the self settled leprosy colonies in Asansol.

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The purpose of Mr. Yohei Sasakawa visit to West Bengal to cast light on leprosy — a neglected disease, yet still remain as serious problem. His purpose of the visit is to learn the ground leprosy situation and seek commitment from political leaders to ensure proper implementation of leprosy eradication program and improve living conditions of people affected by leprosy.

While on the visit, Mr. Dinesh Trivedi who is also the convenor of the recently formed Forum of Parliamentarian to free India of Leprosy, conveyed to the leprosy affected people in the colonies “that they have the right to have a dignified way of living like any other normal person.” He extended his support to them. He also conveyed Honourable Chief Minister Ms. Mamta Banerjee’s best wishes and support to the people in the colony.

Supporting the cause, the Mayor of Asansol, Mr. Tapas Banerjee and Mr. Malay Ghatak, Agricultural Minister and MLA, also accompanied Mr. Sasakawa and Shri Dinesh Trivedi for the visit. Dr. Pradip Kumar Mandal, Jt, DHS & State Leprosy Officer, Dte of Health Services (Leprosy Branch) Mr. A.K Puri, Assistant Director General, Ministry of Health and Family welfare & other local health officials were also present during the visit. The areas visited by them were Rahmatgang and Kankardanga leprosy colonies located in Burnpur in Asansol sub-division, where they met over 159 families, learnt about their lifestyle and occupations, which majorly included begging, labouring as masons and rag & scrap collection. With this visit, they provided morale support and encouragement to these people, by understanding and listening to the people’s needs and concerns, addressing their issues and how can it be supported further by state intervention.

Determined to change the leprosy situation in India Mr. Yohei Sasakawa added “India is a beautiful country, but many parts of it still face the sensitive problems of high discrimination and a major social stigma for the leprosy inflicted people. We aim to provide them a life with dignity, with better education for their children and pension for the elderly and ensure them acceptance into the society. After meeting and understanding them, one major thing I can conclude to is leprosy situation in India needs help, and necessary support to the leprosy affected people and their families should be extended to change the scenario.“

 

In West Bengal, 11,683 new cases of leprosy were reported in a year (April 2012 to March 2013). Out of the 19 districts of West Bengal, 9 districts have an annual new case detection rate of more than 10 per 100,000 populations. In Burdwan, 1293 cases were detected during the year 2012-2013 with Prevalence Rate of 1.31 per 10,000 population.

Further to this a meeting was organized at Kolkata to discuss current leprosy situation and implementation of leprosy control program in West Bengal.  An interaction was also organized with the members of Sara Bangla Kushtha Kalyan Samiti, organization of people affected by leprosy in West Bengal to know about their issues and concerns.

Shri Dinesh Trivedi and Mr. Madhu Goud Yaskhi were recently appointed as Convenors of The Forum of Parliamentarians to Free India of Leprosy. The Forum formed by like-minded Parliamentarians cutting across party lines and supported by Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation is committed to work towards a leprosy free India and bring about changes that would ensure the basic human rights of the leprosy affected.  Through the Forum, the members will try to include leprosy affected in the existing government welfare schemes as well as create awareness and acceptability of leprosy affected people at the National, State as well as local level.

*NOTE: The derogatory use of words such as “leper”, “LAPs”, “PALs” to portray persons affected by leprosy in media is not appropriate, as recommended by the United Nations Principles and guidelines for the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members (A/RES/65/215).

About SILF (Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation)

Mr. Yohei Sasakawa works to advance dialogue between the people affected by leprosy, government leaders, the media, and other parties in many countries, with a particular focus on places where the disease is endemic. He focuses a special amount of effort on promoting an accurate understanding of the disease; particularly the fact that it is curable. In 2006, he established in India, The Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation dedicated to the task of mainstreaming leprosy affected and cured people through economic and social empowerment. It does this by providing financial assistance for income generation projects. To date, livelihood activities have successfully been implemented through 156 projects across 17 states with SILF support. In 2005, Sasakawa initiated the establishment of the National Forum India, a national network of people affected by leprosy around the country. It provides a platform where people affected by leprosy can request to state and central government officials on issues such as pensions, housing, basic sanitation facilities, employment and education. Sara Bangla Kushtha Kalyan Samiti, a state-level organization of people affected by leprosy is affiliated with National Forum India.