Though Bangladesh has already achieved the leprosy elimination target, WHO goodwill ambassador Yohei Sasakawa thinks the country needs a further push with an all-out comprehensive approach to totally eliminate the world's oldest disease from here.
He said WHO and Nippon Foundation, a Japan-based non-profit private foundation, are going to help Bangladesh take an effective action programme to bring the leprosy situation to a zero level.
In an interview with UNB at the WHO office here, Sasakawa, who arrived here on a three-day visit on Sunday morning, said Bangladesh can include the leprosy issue in school education programme as creating awareness among people about the disease and removing the stigma and discrimination towards the affected people are crucial to achieve the best results in the work of eliminating leprosy.
According to WHO statistics, 3,000 to 4,000 new leprosy cases were detected every year from 2011-2017 in Bangladesh, while the disabilities among the detected cases are 7-11 per cent.
‘Leprosy is a very unique disease in comparison to other kind of diseases that exist. When it comes to leprosy, I use the analogy of a motorcycle. I see the front wheel and the rear wheel of a motorcycle as figuratively depicting medical care and the human rights issue of leprosy. Unless the two wheels move together, the solution to the leprosy problem will not be fully addressed,’ the WHO goodwill ambassador said.
Sasakawa, who has been carrying out a fight against leprosy across the globe for more than 40 years, said Bangladesh and many other countries have achieved the elimination goal -- having less than 1 case per 10,000 population-- defined by the WHO.
‘This is the milestone set by the WHO. So achieving this milestone doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is over. Because in some cases leprosy has an incubation period of three to seven years and sometime 10 years depending on the person,’ he said.
The WHO goodwill ambassador for leprosy elimination said once a country achieves the elimination goal this country considers that to be achieving a success meaning that from that point on the various activities trend to remain stagnant.
‘But, I think, there needs to have a further push in this kind of measures. We need to boost these measures from one more time so that we can actively start tackling the problem of leprosy once again,’ he observed.
Sasakawa said Bangladesh has been dealing with leprosy as one of social issues and has taken various activities to this end.
He, however, thinks a further push is needed in order to end the leprosy problem in Bangladesh and Nippon Foundation and WHO are trying to help the Bangladesh government so that this final push yield a positive outcome. ‘We hope to launch a major campaign to bring this leprosy situation to a zero level.’
Stating that he is scheduled to meet the prime minister of Bangladesh and the health minister on Sunday, Sasakawa said he would urge them to try to reemphasise the need for eliminating leprosy from the country.
‘We do need to further hit the awareness campaign nationwide so that people can know more about leprosy. We’re, therefore, thinking of hosting some sort of a nationwide conference enabling people to talk about re-strategising the measures towards leprosy,’ he said.
The WHO envoy said each and every citizen of Bangladesh needs to know three major information-- leprosy-affected patients can get medicine free of cost, leprosy is completely curable and there’s no need to discriminate or feel stigmatized towards this disease-- to eliminate leprosy from Bangladesh.
Sasakawa, also the chairman of Nippon Foundation, said their organisation is providing necessary support to eliminate leprosy through the WHO.
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