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TSI exclusive with yohei sasakawa, a crusader against leprosy
YEFU DANIEL CHEN | Issue Dated: April 22, 2007
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THE HEALING TOUCH Some diseases like leprosy afflict more than mere physical symptoms. The emotional and mental trauma undergone by the ensuing fear and discrimination is more exacting than the toll this terrible condition wreaks on one’s body. Such is the life of millions of Leprosy affected People (LaP) everywhere, with everyone fighting against them, but none to fight for.

In India, Mahatma Gandhi came to the rescue of the distressed ones due to the disease. Mobilising a similar movement against leprosy in Japan was the Late Ryoichi Sasakawa who, having lost his love to leprosy, setup what is now known as the Nippon Foundation (NpF). It was his son Yohei Sasakawa, the current chairman of NpF, who forsook active role in business and has been endeavouring tirelessly for the last 40 years toward the fulfilment of the promise made to his father on his deathbed: ridding Japan, and the world, of this affliction. Yohei Sasakawa is currently in India to receive the International Gandhi Award (12 April), which has been awarded in recognition of his tireless dedication to the eradication of leprosy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had appointed him as the goodwill ambassador for leprosy in 2001, in appreciation of the pledge that Sasakawa had undertaken to extirpate Leprosy, more than three decades ago, which to the WHO was an impossible task.

In an exclusive rendezvous with TSI, this correspondent caught up with Sasakawa on 26 March, who was driving toward the inauguration of the Office of the National Forum of North India (NFo), where LaP from all over India seek refuge. Marking his 104th visit in the last 14 years to India, Yohei Sasakawa discussed his mission to change the mindset of people regarding LaP by dispelling myths about leprosy and to re-integrate them socially. “I’ve hugged and kissed many LaP, but have never contracted it. I was the first to direct the Human Rights Commission’s attention towards social prejudices that the LaP are subjected to. If malaria or tuberculosis patients can reassimilate socially once cured, why not the LaP?” he voiced his concern. The task at hand made a demand on time, conviction and commitment. Thus, he chose to not conduct his mission from a posh Tokyo office, but experience first hand the horrors of the 700 odd leper colonies. This data, he hopes, will prompt action by the government to at least extend the existing infrastructure to support LaP. THE HEALING TOUCH The Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (SILF) has made a donation of $10 million for the benefit of the LaP and is also backing the 17th International Leprosy Congress. On the foundations of NFo, he explains, “Instead of living off donations, they need to tell us how we can assist in their quest for self-reliance and eventually help fellow sufferers. Many organisations strive for the same, but only ours is structured. We plan to act as a bridge between other NGOs, so that they share their wealth of knowledge with each other.”

After NpF research with the Nine-banded Armadillo (the only animal able to contract the disease, but renders the bacteria stagnant) to tackle leprosy reached dead-end, he pursued his vision for grooming global leaders by granting scholarships for Ph.D.s and Masters degrees worldwide. However, he does mention a dose of Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), which is capable of rendering the bacterium inactive and adds that “only proper education can dissolve the gap.”

Immensely influenced by Gandhi, Sasakawa, while claiming spiritual enrichment in his mission, philosophises, “We live only once; while on deathbed, you don’t want to retrospect and regret a wasted lifetime, that’s why I’m always hopeful!” And so are millions of afflicted others . . .
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017