The Leprosy Mission International (TLMI) has marked the 125th anniversary of its foundation by dedicating its latest venture in the fight against leprosy to the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
TLMI officials said that the princess had helped the organization "enormously" with her patronage.
The Diana Princess of Wales Health Education and Media Centerﾗentirely funded by a grant of 890,000 pounds sterling (US$1.43 million) from the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fundﾗwas opened November 28 at Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi.
"She [Princess Diana] would have been thrilled to see this health-education and media center bearing her name, dedicated to promoting awareness and to countering the stigma associated with leprosy," Christopher Spence, chairman of the memorial fund, said at the center's inauguration.
Spence reminded the TLMI delegates that the Princess of Wales had "cared very deeply about the campaign and the work [to eradicate] leprosy. She was well aware of the power of communication to spread awareness, to promote the end of stigma and marginalization of leprosy patients."
More than 150 members of TLMI's international general council, from 33 countries, attended celebrations in New Delhi marking the 125th anniversary. TLMI was founded in India in 1874 by an Irish teacher, Wellesley Cosby Bailey.
Now based in London, TLMI is a Christian action group with churches and individual Christians contributing 80 percent of its annual budget of US$13 million.
Thomas Townley Macan, Britain's deputy High Commissioner in India, said it was appropriate that the media education center should have been dedicated to Diana, a "supporter of the causes of the poor."
"She would surely be rejoicing that the fund created in her memory is supporting a cause dear to her heart," the British diplomat said.
"Diana had special concern for anybody who was disadvantaged. When [in the early 1990s] we asked her to be our patron, she accepted it cheerfully," said Stewart Smith, TLMI chairman.
Smith later told ENI that "more than anybody else, she [the Princess of Wales] could touch hearts. She was precious to us." A photo of the princess sitting on the bed of a patient in a leprosy hospital in Nepal made news headlines in 1993, he said.
"The impact of this single photo on the front page of the national daily [newspaper] probably did more than what we had achieved in ten years of our awareness campaign," TLMI's general director, Trevor Durston, said.
"Leprosy has remained not only a disease that afflicts a large number of people, but it carries with it a stigma," C. Chidambaram, former Indian finance minister, said in a speech at the opening. Leprosy had been regarded in rural areas as "an incurable affliction," said Chidambaram, who is originally from the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, which has a high incidence of leprosy. "In fact, it is considered a curse suffered in this birth [life] for what one may have done in the last birth," he said, adding that "awareness and health education are as important as health care" for the eradication of leprosy.
In 1998, according to figures from the World Health Organization, India accounted for nearly 70 percent of the 800 000 new cases of leprosy detected worldwide.
Spence later told ENI: "Towards the end of her short life, due to personal crisis, she [the Princess of Wales] wanted to reduce the number of charities [more than 100] of which she was patron. She chose to head only six, and one of them was Leprosy Mission."
When the memorial fund offered to support the Leprosy Mission with funds, the Indian branch of the organization proposed the establishment of the media center. The proposal was in fact based on a question the princess asked during a visit to a Leprosy Mission hospital in Calcutta in 1992.
"What are you going to do with the stigma?" Princess Diana had asked TLMI officials.
Cornelius Walters, TLMI's South Asia director, told ENI at the opening: "This center is a fruit of that question."
The Leprosy Mission International's Web site has news updates, a kid's page, and other resources regarding leprosy.
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