The most high-profile leprosy event in Bangladesh for decades was held in December 2019, initiated by Sasakawa Health Foundation with the Ministry of Health. The 500 invitees included senior civil servants from various ministries, heads of health services from all the districts, personnel from WHO, NGOs and persons affected by leprosy.
The highlight was the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, who chaired the inaugural session and gave the keynote speech. Having the PM attending a leprosy conference is a major achievement in Bangladesh. She talked about her personal interactions with persons affected by leprosy dating back 30 years. She announced that she is personally committed to Bangladesh reaching zero leprosy by 2030. In her speech she covered the need to stop neglecting leprosy, to promote inclusion, to expand early case detection, and to undertake research. Such is the PM’s authority in Bangladesh that our colleagues who were at the meeting have no doubt that a clear message got through: she expects action.
The following day there was a national meeting of persons affected by leprosy, organised by Sasakawa Health Foundation with the support of Lepra and TLM. The participants agreed on some preparatory steps towards formalising a nationwide network or organisation of persons affected by leprosy. The lack of a national ‘voice’ of persons affected by leprosy has been very evident and it is good to see this coming into existence.
As a result of the PM’s statements, there is expectation on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to plan how to achieve the goal of zero leprosy, and an opportunity for ILEP and GPZL to work closely with the Ministry towards this objective. The next steps include an official request to the Secretary of Health to organise a meeting to discuss the follow-up activities of the conference together with the key stakeholders including ILEP and GPZL. We are hoping that this may take place in the next two months.