15 November 2021 · Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy

Secretariat Director speaks at 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific

Bill Gallo, Secretariat Director of the Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy, delivered a statement on behalf of the Task Force for Global Health at the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific. The statement is in support of agenda item 14.4: Reaching the Unreached.

The story of Khecy comes from our partner organization, American Leprosy Missions. Thank you to the Leonard Wood Memorial Center/Cebu Leprosy and Tuberculosis Research Foundation, Inc. in the Philippines for supporting Khecy and sharing her story.

The full transcript is below:

My name is Bill Gallo, and I am the Secretariat Director at the Task Force for Global Health’s Global Partnership for Zero Leprosy program. The Partnership is a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to ending leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease. Our work aligns with agenda item 14.4: Reaching the unreached. 

I want to share a story from one of our partners in the Philippines who worked with a very special young woman named Khecy. When Khecy was diagnosed with leprosy, she became depressed and afraid that her community would stigmatize her. She hid at home to try to keep her diagnosis a secret. When her friends found out she had leprosy, they avoided her. At one point, she even considered suicide. Khecy is now leprosy-free, has pursued a career in nursing, and advocates for others who suffer from disease-related stigma. Khecy’s story of discrimination, isolation, and depression is familiar to many people who have experienced leprosy.

Leprosy is a disease of poverty, and those who have it are among the world’s most marginalized people. The COVID-19 pandemic has further isolated many people who already lacked employment and social support.

We must reach the unreached by addressing the social as well as medical aspects of disease. Our vision of Zero Leprosy includes no disease, no disability, and no discrimination or stigma to ensure that no one is left behind.

People like Khecy inform our work and keep this vision alive. People who have experienced leprosy contribute to our efforts with countries to strengthen national leprosy programmes. They help create national Zero Leprosy roadmaps and action plans, which include interventions to combat stigma and abolish discriminatory laws.

With the expertise of people who have experienced leprosy, we can reach the unreached. When we work together, Zero Leprosy is possible. Thank you.