Regional Director’s speech at the launch of the framework for zero leprosy, Maldives

15 July 2019, Maldives

His Excellency Abdulla Ameen, Hon’ble Minister of Health; state and deputy ministers and colleagues from the ministry of health; doctors, nurses, technicians involved in leprosy management; media representatives; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It has been a privilege to be in Maldives and with you to celebrate a series of landmark achievements.

From the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS and syphilis to the launch of the country’s BreatheLife campaign, Maldives is making remarkable strides in advancing health and well-being.

It is a pleasure to add one more achievement to the list: the launch of Maldives’ framework to achieve zero leprosy.

I commend you on the ambition and drive the framework represents.

Though we often talk of eliminating leprosy, ‘eliminating’ the disease is shorthand for eliminating it as a public health problem. It does not mean achieving zero cases.

By striving to do just that – achieve zero cases – you are making a bold commitment to the principle at the heart of the Global Leprosy Strategy, the Region’s Flagship Priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals.

That principle, of course, is leaving no one behind.

As Maldives is demonstrating in word and deed, discrimination, stigma and prejudice towards persons with leprosy – or any other person for that matter – has no place in the modern world.

But it also has no place in medicine, or in the quest to make our communities and countries healthier.

Discrimination and prejudice are, after all, some of the greatest barriers to detecting leprosy cases early and ensuring that people receive the treatment they need, when they need it.

Our greatest scientific advances are only as strong as our shared humanity.

Importantly, Maldives is also demonstrating the need to fully harness WHO’s new guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of leprosy.

These guidelines were published just last year and were updated to better reflect the disease’s evolving burden.

Indeed, as leprosy declines, traditional strategies that worked in high-burden areas must be supplemented by new strategies more tailored to the changed epidemiological and social context.

To achieve the Global Leprosy Programme’s target of accelerating towards a leprosy-free world, more finely calibrated policy is needed.

In that sense, Maldives is leading from the front. I look forward to watching your progress, as I’m sure leprosy programmes in the Region and across the world are.

As Maldives works to achieve its target, I am pleased to note that your country’s social protection scheme considers the needs of people with different abilities.

I am also pleased to note that the disability act includes provisions for a disability allowance, which helps disabled citizens secure the same rights and opportunities as any other citizen.

Each of these interventions will help ensure those affected by leprosy are able to live productive and healthy lives, at the same time as dispelling the stigma that too often comes with disability.

Excellencies, distinguished guests,

Making a plan is the first step to driving change. Following the plan is the second and decisive part.

As such, your bold journey towards achieving a leprosy-free Maldives now begins in earnest.

I have strong reason to have trust in your success. It was, after all, long before the deadline to achieve the global target that you eliminated leprosy as public health problem.

This event is itself an indication of the renewed political and programmatic commitment to tackle the problem and of Maldives’ continued leadership in this area.

WHO is proud to be your partner, and I can assure you of our full technical and operational support to ensure you reach your targets.

On that note, I thank all national and international experts for their contribution to what is a robust and technically sound framework, and once again commend the ministry of health and political leaders across sectors, and at all levels, for their commitment and resolve.

I will be most pleased to join you again to certify the achievement of your first major target – ‘100 islands free of leprosy’ by 2023 or earlier.

Thank you.