Stories from the Mission Field

July 2023

India: Leprosy still exists

There are still thousands of new cases of leprosy worldwide each year, most of them in India. According to the WHO, more than 200,000 people contracted the chronic infectious disease in 2019. Yet leprosy is easily treatable today and actually no longer a reason for exclusion. But the reality is different.

When Manjula (name changed) was 15 years old, she discovered an unusual pale pink spot on her thigh. Thinking nothing of it, she applied an ointment and continued to attend to her chores. Manjula's family kept a few animals and sold milk. A few days later, another spot appeared on her right cheek. Her parents took her to a doctor, who gave her an herbal remedy to treat it. It did not bring any improvement. Soon she could not move her fingers and lost feeling in her hands. At the state hospital, they referred her to a leprosy hospital. But Manjula refused to go there: Leprosy means ridicule, exclusion, suffering.

Fight against disease and stigmatization

In India, there are still major challenges in the fight against leprosy. The government now provides medicines free of charge and is trying to educate the population. But high population density and poor sanitary conditions contribute to the spread of the disease. The biggest problem is stigmatization: no one wants to deal with "lepers”.

Manjula must go

At that time Manjula was already engaged to a man. She did not want to give up her life, continued to take the herbal medicine and hoped for improvement. But eventually small holes appeared under her toes. She could hardly walk anymore. When people found out that the young woman had leprosy, they shunned her. Her fiancé also left her. Finally, Manjula went to the leprosy hospital, was treated there, and returned to her village after a few days. But no one, not even her family, let her stay with them. She went to the clinic again and asked to stay there longer. The doctors advised the desperate woman to go to the Poolbagh colony.

Refuge Leper Colony

Bridge of Hope, EBM INTERNATIONAL's partner organization, has been supporting people in the "Poolbagh" leper colony for more than 30 years. About 60 families receive rice and other food there, they get medical help, medicine and bandages for their ulcers. Manjula was 22 years old when she arrived there. At first, she lived in a simple hut made of wood and leaves. The leper colony became her new home: she met a man who also had leprosy. The two married and had a son, who is now grown up.

Attention and dignity

Today Manjula is 45 years old, widowed and still marked by her illness. She continues to live in the leper colony and receives rice and medical assistance. At least as valuable, however, is the attention she receives from the staff of Bridge of Hope: Loving words, support in her daily life, the knowledge that she is accepted and loved even in her illness.

If leprosy is detected early and those affected receive appropriate medical care, the disease can be cured. A normal life is possible. Through medical care at the leper colony, the children who grow up there are healthy. Perhaps they will actually experience one day: leprosy no longer exists.