Report from the ceremony to declare leprosy eliminated as a public health problem:
Leprosy was declared eliminated as a public health problem in Timor-Leste by His Excellency, Dr Ramos Horta, Honourable President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (RDTL) at a declaration ceremony in The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the 23rd March 2011. Elimination of leprosy as a public health problem is defined as a prevalence rate lower than 1 per 10,000 population at the national level. At the end of December 2010 Timor-Leste achieved elimination with 78 leprosy cases under treatment and prevalence rate of 0.73 per 10,000 population. The programme to eliminate leprosy commenced in 2003 with the World Health Organization, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation, The Nippon Foundation, and The Leprosy Mission International as the major collaborative partners. Among those who attended the ceremony were Mr Fernando Lasama de Araujo, the President of the Parliament of RDTL, H.E. Dr Nelson Martins; Minister for Health; Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Deputy Regional Director, World Health Organization Regional Office for South-East Asia and Mr Tatsuya Tanami, Executive Director, The Nippon Foundation representing Mr Yohei Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Elimination of Leprosy. It was also attended by distinguished officials from the Ministry of Health, including District health officers and frontline health workers for leprosy, Ambassadors, Development Partners, International and National Non Government Organizations, people previously suffering from leprosy and media persons.
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Deputy Regional Director of WHO-SEARO also addressed the attendees saying, “This is an important milestone. With Timor-Leste achieving this goal, all countries in South Asia Region have now eliminated leprosy as a public health problem.” She added, “WHO is committed to continuing the programme with the same intensity to further reduce the disease burden, especially in the three remaining endemic districts, i.e.Oe-cusse, Baucau and Viqueque.” She acknowledged the support of the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation and Mr. Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for leprosy elimination for his constant support. Mr Tatsuya Tanami, read a message on behalf of Mr Yohei Sasakawa, who was unable to attend due to recent devastating events in Japan. In the statement he said “…over the past 8 years, the number of cases fell sharply, until Timor-Leste passed the elimination milestone of less than one case per 10,000 population. This is thanks to every single person concerned. I salute you. The achievement of elimination can be thought of as a milestone on the way to completely eradicating the disease. But not until the very last patient has completed his or her treatment, we must continue to share information and remain vigilant. Above all, I congratulate Timor-Leste on its achievement of elimination. And I thank you for your dedication and hard work, which made this possible.”
In the Minister for Health’s address he said “Today we are proud of the President’s declaration to the world that Timor-Leste has achieved the WHO target of leprosy elimination in the region…we are committed to continue doing the same work and put the same commitment and effort into control to combat this disease until one day leprosy will become history in Timor-Leste.” The President, H.E. Dr Ramos Horta, said in his speech “In Timor-Leste, we have had, and thanks to the efforts of our health authorities, supported by the World Health Organisation, we have been able now to declare leprosy closed, ended in Timor-Leste. But we must not be complacent, we must continue to keep an eye on the few remaining cases, so that they too are completely treated and are able to reintegrate in society.” Elimination of leprosy as a public health problem has been achieved in Timor-Leste by implementation of comprehensive programme, the major components of which were to train health staff in the detection and treatment of leprosy; to actively look for cases and provide a continuous, uninterrupted supply of Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) to those patients.