World Leprosy Day is celebrated the world over on last Sunday of the month, each year and in 2011 it falls on January 30.
Alliance Development Trust (ADT) of Sri Lanka has become a beacon of light to former leprosy patients who unfortunately are still a forgotten community in our ‘modern’ society.
“When ADT visited the Hendala Leprosy Hospital in 2008 and altogether there were 50 patients. Although they are ‘forgotten’ by the society, we understood that they too were very much a part and parcel of our society. If they are given the right opportunity they too can work and contribute to the betterment of our country,” recollects ADT Project Officer.
“We conducted training for them through our Micro Finance Programme and made loan and material grants available to them. With that assistance 19 beneficiaries in Hendala, four in Batticaloa, and five in the Southern Province started small-scale enterprises. Altogether 35 beneficiaries have started small businesses in carpentry, bicycle / electrical appliances repairing, weaving table cloths / coir ropes, and manufacturing vesak lanterns and envelopes,” he added cheerfully.
In 2009 ADT commenced a very innovative project under its livelihood arm by introducing goat-rearing to beneficiaries in Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, and Hamabanthota.
“The society must know that they too can work. All this time the beneficiaries were mentally depressed as they didn’t have any mode of income and were depended on others”.
He cited a success story of Ananda Bandara whose fingers were deformed by leprosy but was still an able carpenter. Even with such deformities the intricate designs and carvings he could produce in furniture was amazing.
“The world must know that there are people like this. We hope to create awareness not only in the society but also among patients that they don’t need to hide their sickness but can be free from it for life after proper medical treatment,”
However, stigmatising of leprosy patients and discriminating them still happens in our society where some are still ‘afraid’ of buying goods manufactured by the beneficiaries, who have now been permanently cured from leprosy.
The Leprosy Hospital in Hendala, Wattala was set up in 1708 by the Dutch and the 302 year-old hospital itself is a historical site to see.
Medical Officer in Charge Dr. Dharshan Mohotti, said that although the disease was eliminated in 1995, social stigma associated with it still remained in the minds of our citizens.
“Although leprosy was eliminated long ago, deformity rate is still high as patients do not seek medical assistance due to social stigma, which are known as ‘hidden cases’. Anyone with unaesthetic patches or feels no sensation or pain should consult a dermatologist and if found to be a leprosy patient can be fully cured,” Dr. Mohotti added.
Last December, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa visited the Hendala leprosy hospital and commended ADT’s efforts in assisting leprosy patients.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease which, if untreated, can lead to permanent and progressive nerve damage and thereby to deformities of the limbs, eyes and face.
It has traditionally been characterised by extreme social stigma leading to the marginalisation of sufferers.
The clinical signs of leprosy include insensitive skin lesions and thickened peripheral nerves. Untreated infectious leprosy cases are the primary source of infection and transmit the disease through nasal secretions.
Persons with low cell-mediated immunity are at risk of developing clinically active leprosy irrespective of gender, age or social class.
Many communities still discriminate against leprosy sufferers and consider the disease to be contagious, mutilating and incurable despite tremendous improvement in its treatment. Since 1982, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends Multiple Drug Therapy (MDT) for the treatment of leprosy as it cures the disease within a maximum of one year, interrupts its transmission, and helps prevent deformities through early cure.
Although many countries have technically ‘eliminated’ the disease by achieving the deﬁned target of attaining a prevalence of less than 1 case per 10,000 population, Leprosy is still a public health problem in 55 countries and over one-fifth of the estimated 1.15 million leprosy cases in the world remain undetected, according to WHO.
Sri Lanka, a country with an exemplary primary health care system, was the ﬁrst nation in South Asia to provide MDT to all registered leprosy patients in 1984.
Alliance Development Trust (ADT) is dedicated to ‘unite and empower communities by dynamic action for social peace, public justice and economic sufficiency to transform the nation’.
ADT strives to build local capacities through conducting participatory planning processes, including vulnerable groups, a focus on cultural appropriateness, and providing assistance in restoring vital norms such as education, income generation, recreation, and meaningful work.