Leprosy in NepalLeprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium Leprae which is related to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. The disease is mildly infectious and is most prevalent in places with higher levels of poverty. Due to issues like overcrowding and malnutrition that many people living in poverty face, people’s immune systems can be compromised, making them less able to fight the bacteria.

Leprosy is curable and, if treated early, it will not cause any long-term health issues. According to The Leprosy Mission, around 200,000 people worldwide are diagnosed with leprosy each year.

Although the overall prevalence of leprosy in Nepal fell below one case in 10,000 of its entire population in 2009, there are still areas in Southern Nepal where its prevalence is much higher due to its proximity to Northern India. Nepal was still among the top ten countries affected by leprosy in 2021.

How Leprosy Affects People

If left untreated, leprosy can cause nerve damage, leading to a loss of sensation in the hands, feet and face. Due to this loss of sensation, people with untreated leprosy are less likely to notice pain from injuries such as burns and cuts, which can then lead to infections. Nerve damage to the face can also cause difficulty with blinking and can lead to eye damage and even blindness.

Due to myths and superstitions, there is a great amount of fear and stigma surrounding leprosy in many cultures. Those suffering from the disease are often isolated from their families and communities, and many lose their jobs and even their homes because of this.

Heal Nepal

Although leprosy is curable, especially when treated early, it can be very difficult to diagnose. The Leprosy Mission works with medical researchers to discover new treatments for leprosy and develops campaigns in countries affected by leprosy to help educate people about the disease. They also work with governments worldwide to ensure medical staff are educated, reducing misdiagnosis and preventing leprosy from developing.

The Leprosy Mission aims for zero transmission of leprosy worldwide and is working to improve education on how to end the transmission of leprosy in Nepal through its Heal Nepal program. Heal Nepal works with local communities and health services in 11 different districts of Nepal to educate local communities about leprosy, raising awareness of its symptoms and treatment. They also train health workers on leprosy diagnostics and encourage the early treatment of leprosy, and emphasize that it is not infectious when treated.

These efforts have significantly reduced waiting times for referrals and have allowed for a more efficient provision of leprosy treatment to patients, which has decreased the number of serious health complications in people with leprosy in Nepal. The program also provides patients suffering from more advanced cases with reconstructive surgery when necessary.

How Heal Nepal Is Supporting People with Leprosy in Nepal

Heal Nepal has recruited numerous female volunteers and trained them to identify leprosy, and due to their efforts, more than 170 new leprosy patients have been identified and given treatment. This has lowered the levels of the disease and prevented many people from developing lifelong disabilities that can occur as a result of untreated leprosy.

Along with readily available and highly effective treatments such as multi-drug therapy (the World Health Organization’s recommended treatment for leprosy), there have been many medical breakthroughs within the past decade that are helping people with disabilities caused by leprosy. “Clawed hands” or foot-drops caused by leprosy-related nerve damage can now be restored with surgery and physiotherapy, and reconstructive surgery can also restore eyelid muscles, allowing people to blink again. People with nerve-damaged hands and feet are also encouraged to check daily for any cuts or burns and to soak their hands and feet regularly to make them softer, which helps prevent further injuries which could cause disability. Protective shoes and mobility aids have also been made available to those who need them, improving their quality of life and allowing them to be more independent.

Not only do Heal Nepal and The Leprosy Mission help those with leprosy on a physical level, but these programs also help with the social aspects of having leprosy and work to end the stigma and fear surrounding leprosy by educating people in communities where leprosy is common. They also offer counseling and support groups to help people with leprosy feel less alone and help them cope with the negative social aspects of having the disease.

Overall, The Leprosy Mission’s Heal Nepal campaign has helped reduce transmission of leprosy by identifying and diagnosing the disease early on. This has allowed people with the disease to be treated and cured and allowed many people to return to a normal standard of life. For those with more advanced cases, their quality of life has also been improved with more advanced medical and social care.

– Molly Wallace
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in NepalAnuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal, has rescued and prevented over 50,000 female victims of human trafficking in Nepal in the past 30 years. 

In 1949, Koirala was born into a well-educated and affluent family, showered with love from her parents. Her life seemed like a carefree fairy tale until her marriage during which suffered physical abuse, mistreatment and humiliation from her husband. Koirala blamed domestic violence for enduring three miscarriages.

Finally, she was able to escape her horrible marriage and start a grocery store in a small town to make a living. However, Koirala didn’t forget the pain of her marriage. She determined to use her experience to help abused victims of human trafficking in Nepal. Thus, she embarked on her own rescue mission, tracing the footsteps of trafficked girls.

A Background on Human Trafficking in Nepal

Nepal and India share an open border of 1,850 kilometers, which has made human trafficking in Nepal one of the most lucrative markets in the world. The Human Trafficking Rescue Program estimated that there are more than 54 women trafficking cases in Nepal every single day. According to investigations from the United Nations and local non-governmental organizations, approximately 12,000 to 15,000 Nepalese young girls and women are victims of human trafficking each year. These individuals hold hopes of finding well-paid employment abroad, but their dreams turn into nightmares. Most of them end up in brothels in India, enduring rape and becoming slaves to addiction. Furthermore, these exploited women are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. 

Maiti Nepal Helps Rescue Human Trafficking Victims

In 1993, Koirala used her meager income to establish the nonprofit organization Maiti Nepal, meaning “Mother’s Home Nepal.” The organization offers medical care, rehabilitation services and educational training services to trafficked girls, enabling them to reintegrate into society. Its vision is to create a society free from exploitation against women. As the organization developed, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) decided to provide financial support to Maiti Nepal. 

Moreover, Maiti Nepal collaborated with UNICEF to launch a dance program “KinderKulturKarawane” to release girls’ inner pain and rebuild their confidence. Many survivors have found a positive outlet through dance, expressing their emotions and boosting their physical and mental well-being. Additionally, survivors incorporate their stories into dance performances, raising awareness among the public about the dangers of human trafficking and the common tactics used by traffickers.

Currently, Maiti Nepal has established 11 temporary shelters in different border towns, providing counseling services, health care and life skills training. The organization‘s transit homes serve not only as temporary residences for victims of human trafficking but also as interception points to rescue children and women. It collaborates with border police, conducting regular raids on brothels and searching for traces of traffickers along the Nepal-India border. 

Maiti Nepal became the world’s first social organization to utilize AI technology for tracking criminals and missing girls in 2018. The American software company, NowtRKit, provided the facial recognition technology program for tracking human traffickers to Maiti Nepal free of charge. The adoption of this technology significantly enhanced Maiti Nepal’s border surveillance efforts, enabling the organization to intercept criminals crossing the border more efficiently and preventing human trafficking. Koirala stated that in 2022, the organization helped police rescue 499 women and children

The work of combating human trafficking is fraught with danger. Koirala remains confident even though she receives life-threatening letters from criminal groups every day. From the moment she decided to establish Maiti Nepal, she understood the kind of difficulties she would face.

Looking Forward

Through the relentless efforts of Koirala and Maiti Nepal over the past 30 years, the Nepalese government has designated September 5th as “Anti-Trafficking Day.” The government has continuously worked towards improving relevant laws, protecting victims and strengthening sentencing measures. Koirala regards every assisted girl as her own child. She hopes for the day when Maiti Nepal can disband, signifying the end of trafficking in Nepal and the cessation of torment for Nepalese girls. 

The work of Maiti Nepal has received recognition and support from various sectors both domestically and internationally for their efforts against human trafficking in Nepal. Koirala’s steadfast belief and selfless dedication set an example for this organization and inspired more people to join the fight, bringing hope and transformation to trafficked girls.

– Mingjun Hou
Photo: Flickr