Neglected tropical diseases

Remarks by Mrs Kumiko Hashimoto
Wife of former Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto

19 APRIL 2007
Madam Director-General Dr Chan, your Excellencies, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein (Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania), Your Royal Highness Mr Abdulaziz Ahmad Al Saud, distinguished guests,

Geneva in April: the mountains of the Alps glimmer in the distance, fresh new leaves are beginning to emerge and flowers in every colour reflect in the lake. Arriving in this beautiful international city in springtime, the season when new life is bursting, I can feel that a new wind is sweeping through and that history will be changed. Seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom in the lush green garden of WHO also brings back the fond memories I have of the day I visited Geneva with my late husband.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr Margaret Chan for inviting me to this important meeting today. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt congratulations to Dr Chan for her selection as the General-Director of WHO. I firmly believe that under Dr Chan’s leadership, WHO will make a significant contribution to the health of the nations and people around the world. As a fellow female from Asia, I am very pleased by this splendid decision.

On behalf of my late husband Ryutaro Hashimoto, I would like to express my gratitude and congratulations for holding this outstanding partnership meeting, the Global Partners Meeting on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). I am greatly honoured to be able to participate in this important forum, where people with a strong will and sense of mission towards the fight against neglected tropical parasitic diseases have come together from all over the world to discuss and understand each other in order to deepen their partnership, as well as to confirm that they are all heading towards the same goal. It makes me realize that the seed sown by my husband has sprouted and is growing and thriving.

As a politician, my husband worked very passionately in the area of health. As the Prime Minister of Japan, my husband took up the issue of parasitic disease control at the Denver Summit in 1997. This was not for political posturing or manoeuvring: he viewed parasitic disease control as one of the challenges of humanity. He hoped that Japan would live up to its role in fundamental areas over the course of the coming years, and, if possible, he hoped that developed nations could work together and start a global movement for parasitic disease control.

This was the result of the accumulation of many experiences beginning from his early childhood days. When my husband was little, he saw the passion with which his father, then Minister of Health and Welfare, committed himself to the eradication of malaria, which was prevalent in Japan at the time. After his father passed away he aspired to become a politician, and decided to commit his life to the area of health. When he was the Minister of Health and Welfare, he contracted amoebic dysentery in Papua New Guinea in 1969 and came down with dengue fever in Myanmar in 1970. It seemed that his own experience made him realize that tropical diseases were a critical health issue. The Hashimoto Initiative was proposed at the Denver Summit based on these experiences.

In March 2000, my husband gave a speech at the G8 follow-up International Symposium in Kobe, in which he said, “3.5 billion people are suffering from soil-transmitted nematodes around the world. Despite this fact, the matter is drawing little attention from the public, the media and politicians. This is all the more why we must stress the importance of parasitic control. In this way, we would hope to contribute to humankind”. Indeed, the importance of tropical parasitic control was not recognized at the time.

And now a decade later, in 2007, I am deeply moved by the fact that a global plan has been developed for tropical parasitic control or NTDs, with the efforts of WHO, governments, experts and partners; and, furthermore, that an international meeting like this one, which brings together those important players, is being held. I am sure my husband is also expressing his happiness in heaven. Just like the cherry blossoms in full bloom here at WHO headquarters, I believe that today the wishes my husband held when he proposed parasitic control as an agenda item of the G8 are blossoming.

Now let me say a few words about Japan’s efforts. The Government of Japan, particularly the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Nippon Foundation have maintained and continued to implement the initiative of my late husband as a socially and practically significant measure. For example, in Ghana, Kenya and Thailand, Japan implemented parasitic control measures based on school health, the so-called CIPAC Project, in cooperation with the respective governments, and they have been very fruitful. I very much hope that the initiative will continue to make further advances.

Tropical parasitic diseases continue to place an enormous burden on disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. My heart aches knowing that this is a significant problem for the people of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, especially for women who occupy a central role in their households. We women must rise up and do our part for the women in vulnerable situations. I understand that the new WHO General-Director Dr Margaret Chan has made Africa her priority and women her focus. For my part, I would like to cooperate with the NTD partnership not only on behalf of the Hashimoto Initiative of Japan but also in support of the partnership as one female.

The times are changing such that today, various partners are forming partnerships and joining hands towards a single objective. I feel honoured to be able to work together and cooperate with the various partners in this room. In order for the partnership to function well, I believe that WHO has a critical role to play as an entity that provides technical guidance and advice based on scientific grounds. I have great expectations for WHO under Dr Margaret Chan.

Last but not least, I would like to commend from my heart the unflagging efforts and passion of the people in this room, who share my husband’s dream of eradicating parasitic diseases. I would like to join you in extending our warm wishes like the cherry blossoms in full bloom, as well as a helping hand that will assuredly change the unfortunate reality, to our friends who are still suffering from NTDs and with whom we share this planet.

May the neglected people be blessed with hope and health.

Thank you very much.