The WHO Goodwill Ambassador said once a country achieves the elimination goal, it considers that to be achieving a success, meaning that from that point on, various action programs trend to remain stagnant
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 Bangladesh.
He said WHO and Nippon Foundation, a Japan-based non-profit private foundation, together are going to help Bangladesh with an effective action program to bring the leprosy situation to a zero level.
In an interview with UNB at the WHO office in the city on Sunday morning, Sasakawa, who came to Dhaka on a three-day visit, said Bangladesh can include the leprosy issue in school education programs for public awareness about the disease, and to remove stigma and discrimination against those affected, which is crucial to achieving the best results in eliminating leprosy.
What the statistics say
According to WHO statistics, 3,000 to 4,000 new leprosy cases were detected every year from 2011-2017 in Bangladesh, while disabilities among detected cases are 7 to 11 percent.
"Leprosy is a very unique disease compared to other kinds 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 sometimes 10 years, depending on the person," he said.
The WHO Goodwill Ambassador said once a country achieves the elimination goal, it considers that to be achieving a success, meaning that from that point on, various action programs trend to remain stagnant.
"But, I think, there needs to be a further push in these kinds of measures. We need to boost the measures one more time so that we can actively start tackling the problem once again," he observed.
Sasakawa said Bangladesh has been dealing with leprosy as one of its social issues and has taken various actions to this end.
He, however, thinks a further push is needed in order to end the leprosy problem in Bangladesh. The Nippon Foundation and WHO are trying to help the Bangladesh government so that this final push yields a positive outcome.
"We hope to launch a major campaign to bring this leprosy situation to a zero level."
Sasakawa said he would urge Bangladesh government to try to reemphasize the need for eliminating leprosy totally 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-strategizing the measures against leprosy," he said.
The WHO envoy said each and every citizen of Bangladesh needs to know three major things: leprosy-affected patients can get medicine free of cost, leprosy is completely curable, and there's no need to discriminate or feel stigmatized by this disease.
Sasakawa, also the chairman of Nippon Foundation, said their organization is providing necessary support to eliminate leprosy through the WHO.