Leprosy, 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.
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