With 2,000 cases of leprosy-affected persons reported annually in Sri Lanka, there is a pressing need to create awareness of its spread and fight the stigma against persons affected by leprosy whilst providing them with the necessary aftercare and reintegrating them into society. To address this burning issue, the ADT launched the Touch Anti-Leprosy Campaign in 2014. Following a successful model in equipping faith leaders to create awareness and fight the stigma against leprosy, the ADT has today reached all 25 districts of Sri Lanka. In 2017, the ADT organised a National Interfaith Conference on Leprosy Control in collaboration with the national Anti-Leprosy Campaign (ALC) of the Ministry of Health and the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation.
The conference was graced by the Chief Guest, Honorable Dr Sarath Amunugama - Deputy Director-General, Public Health Services, Ministry of Health. Dr Priyantha Karunaratna - the Deputy Director of the ALC, Dr Supun Wijesinghe - the Consultant Community Physician of the ALC, Reverend Father Thilakaratne - Co-Chairman of the Inter-Religious Peace Foundation, Deshamanya Godfrey Yogarajah - the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ADT and Mahesh De Mel - Director of the ADT were amongst the guests of honour.
A total of 120 religious leaders of the four major faiths in Sri Lanka attended this conference. The conference provided them with a forum to meet with religious leaders and the regional Leprosy Control Public Health Inspectors (LCPHIs) from their districts and an opportunity to form groups in order to carry out their very own anti-leprosy campaigns. These groups successfully conduct programmes at their religious shrines and places of worship as well as other institutions such as schools and prisons, fighting the spread of leprosy and the stigma formed against it at a grassroots level. They contribute greatly towards effectively conducting a nationwide anti-leprosy campaign because of the influence they wield and the respect they receive in their communities.
Dr Sarath Amunugama quoted the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) - Ban Ki-Moon, in his address, stressing the importance of working together to overcome obstacles. Dr Amunugama appreciated the efforts of the ADT to bring together the faith leaders and for its work towards leprosy control in Sri Lanka. “This is a new experience for health services in Sri Lanka”, he said, referring to working with inter-faith leaders. “I hope the relationship built today will last and that it will help us reach a leprosy-free Sri Lanka in 2020.”