Ljubljana – A film about leprosy in Sudan by Slovenian human rights activists Tomo Križnar and Bojana Pivk Križnar premiered in Ljubljana on Monday. In a debate that followed, the chair of the WHO executive board and a Foreign Ministry official commented on the failure of institutions to tackle the issue, arguing for cooperation between authorities and NGOs.
Križnar has travelled to Sudan and other under-developed areas in Africa many times over the past decades and made a number of films about the situation there.
A few years ago, in the Nuba Mountains and in the Blue Nile region, he found people affected by leprosy, a disease that has long been treatable, but is spreading among locals in remote villages due to war zones, hard-to-reach areas and, mainly, a lack of political will, he said.
Since then he and his wife have been calling on Europe to act. If the developed world fails to help leprosy patients in Sudan, then its ethics, hearts and minds are rotting the same way their bodies are, he said in the debate that followed the screening of their documentary Trohnenje 2022 (Rotting 2022) at Kinodvor.
In addition to providing medicines, transport to hospital is a key measure that would help tackle the issue at least in the short term. Križnar did his best to organise the transport of one patient to hospital.
He even convinced the Slovenian Foreign Ministry to wire EUR 30,000 to the WHO branch in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, but the money has been stuck there since 2019, first due to Covid-19 and then, the participants said, due to red tape.
The chair of the WHO executive board, Slovenian expert Vesna Kerstin Petrič, said the slogan that the WHO uses a lot – Leaving No One Behind – was often repeated but the film Rotting 2022 painted a different picture.
Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) and agencies are not keen on cooperating with the civil society, since they function by different rules. Protocols and red tape often prevent IGOs from taking action and suddenly nothing can be done in war zones.
Kerstin Petrič is convinced that the only solution is cooperation with the civil society, which is why she plans to use all her influence to kickstart action.
Eva Tomič, acting director of the Foreign Ministry’s Directorate for Multilateral Affairs and Development Cooperation, believes Slovenia is a country that can raise such issues. Talking about leprosy at a meeting is shocking at first, but that is how the issue gets attention.
Both Kerstin Petrič and Tomič agreed that diplomats often live in their own world, separated from reality, which can make them inefficient, but with the help of the civil society they can get the facts on the ground. They hope that Rotting 2022 will help spread the word and pave the way for a systemic solution.
Tomič said she would do her best to raise awareness about the issue, and she believes new Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon will too, noting that Fajon is familiar with Križnar’s efforts since it was she who co-nominated him for the European Citizen’s Prize in 2015, an honour he then received.