Global Campaign for Leprosy Elimination


The Chronicles of Global Leprosy Elimination Campaign
By Yohei Sasakawa WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination

Vol.22 2017.3.30

Approaching the United Nations (5) Cuba and China join the unanimous vote

e_vol22So far, based on differences in political background, Cuba and China had objected to every proposal submitted by the Japanese Government. Negotiation would need a thoroughly thought out strategy. I decided that I would visit the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations in Geneva to meet with the ambassador himself.

These were my first words as we sat down to talk:

“Your Excellency, I have had the honor of being commended by the WHO together with the great leader of your country, President Fidel Castro. He was indeed an outstanding person. More recently, I was very touched by seeing the film “Motorcycle Diaries,” which depicts the life of young Che Guevara, the close ally of President Castro. Your Excellency, I am sure you are aware that Guevara, as a doctor, had shown great interest in leprosy. This film made me see an analogy between a motorcycle and leprosy. I see the front wheel and the rear wheel of a motorcycle as figuratively depicting medical care and the human rights issue of leprosy. The two wheels must function synchronously to achieve the best results in the work of eliminating leprosy just they make the motorcycle move smoothly.”

I went still further by commending Cuba for accepting medical students from East Timor, its active involvement in medical education for developing countries, and its large role in the development of African medical system. These achievements are all tributes to the leadership of President Castro. WHO was able to carry on its work because of President Castro and my work to eliminate leprosy and discrimination is the extension of President Castro’s achievements.”

As I spoke passionately, the ambassador started to become teary-eyed. He extended his hand and repeatedly said: “Let me take care of this. You have nothing to worry about.”

The next visit was with the Chinese ambassador. He was a man of few words and was not engaging by any standard. Even so, I broke the ice by talking about how my father, Ryoichi Sasakawa and Deng Xiaoping got on so well that they even crossed pinky fingers as a sign of friendship.

I continued to press the ambassador for an answer.

“The problem with disease is that anyone can be affected irrelevant of politics, thinking, or religion. This is the common woe of humankind. Disease has no borders. If you agree with me, I would like to ask for your cooperation.”

Although the Chinese ambassador did not express his emotions as openly as the Cuban ambassador, he promised me then and there; “I will cooperate by contacting my government.” This is how I was able to satisfactorily conclude the presentations to the key member countries of the UN Human Rights Council.

June 18, 2008. The sound of the chairman’s gavel resounded solemnly across the venue of the Human Rights Council. It was the moment that the entire world came together for the first time in unison to solve a human rights issue. The resolution put on the table by the Japanese Government was submitted by 59 co-sponsoring nations and was unanimously accepted and passed. This is to say even Cuba and China were co-sponsor countries. It was a huge surprise for me as I thought that their “promise to cooperate” was to vote for the resolution but never imagined that they would go further to become co-sponsors.