TOKYO, Sept. 20, 2013 /CNW/ - An international symposium on ending discrimination related to leprosy was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on September 18. Sponsored by The Nippon Foundation, the symposium brought together some 200 people affected by leprosy, human rights experts, and representatives of NGOs and international bodies from 13 countries, including eight African nations.
At an opening ceremony, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced that the government would be taking further steps to improve the quality of life of leprosy-affected people, while Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa said, "The biggest challenge is to bring to an end centuries of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination surrounding leprosy."
The symposium is the third of five being organized by The Nippon Foundation in different regions of the world to promote implementation of a UN resolution on elimination of discrimination against leprosy-affected persons and their family members. The resolution, together with accompanying principles and guidelines, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2010. In 2012, the first two symposia, focusing on the Americas and Asia, were held in Brazil and India, respectively.
Feared down the centuries as a disease without cure, leprosy today is treated with multidrug therapy (MDT). Since the introduction of MDT in the 1980s, the annual number of new cases worldwide has come down from 5.4 million in 1985 to around 200,000 in 2012 and some 16 million people have been cured of the disease.
Yet even after being successfully treated, people who have been affected by leprosy still face obstacles in education, employment, marriage and access to public services because of misconceptions and mistaken beliefs about leprosy. In addition, discriminatory legislation remains in place in some countries.
At the symposium, Tim Hughes, deputy executive director of the International Bar Association, called for discriminatory laws still found in India, Nepal, Singapore and elsewhere to be amended or scrapped.
Meanwhile, representatives of organizations of leprosy-affected people from five countries, including Ethiopia, stressed that as the primary stakeholders, they must have a central role in finding solutions to the issues.
Two more symposia, in the Middle East and Europe, will be held by the end of 2014, resulting in a plan of action for implementing the UN resolution and a mechanism for monitoring actions being taken.
SOURCE: The Nippon Foundation
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