Abandoned: Leprosy Patients Cry for Help
Leprosy has resurfaced in Malawi after it was believed to have been stamped out in the country in the 1970s, and it appears to have come back strongly.
Our reporter Chikondi Mphande traveled to Utale leprosy village in Balaka where people suffering from the disease are being kept under proper care and management of experts as the disease is characterized by stigma and discrimination in the society.
But now, some of the patients continue to be abandoned by their relatives and they are no longer visited, leaving them with no hope of help from them.
Currently, Malawi has 679 Leprosy patients.
"It is not easy suffering from leprosy, people think we are useless and we are like dead people," said Zuze Jodi, born in 1945 who has been suffering from leprosy since he was young.
Faced with stigma and discrimination at his home village in Nsanje, he went to Utale Leprosy Village where he is staying now.
This is the village which was designed to accommodate patients suffering from the disease.
They are kept here to receive medical treatment and basic care.
There are at least 16 people here. Thirteen and three women.
"Our children, wife, relatives and friends insult us; they think this disease is a punishment for our sins. I feel pain at night and l came to live here to run away from insults at home," said Jodi.
On our second visit to this place, we found Elias Mauseni, aged 75, He also has leprosy.
He told us that for years now he has been at Utale leprosy clinic to seek medical attention due to challenges he was facing at his home village.
He says life has not been easy since he started suffering from the disease. He can’t work to fend for his family. His children are suffering.
"My relatives have never visited me since l came here in 2002. l lost hope and it is painful in my heart. Discrimination was a serious challenge at home. People were changing routes the moment they saw me. Some people say leprosy is punishment for my sins. My relatives have never visited me. It is painful in my heart," said Mauseni.
Esther Salephera from Machinga is another leprosy victim living at Utale. She told us life has been unbearable since she started suffering from leprosy in 2011.
"I feel pain in my whole body and I don't sleep at night most of the time. I keep on scratching my itchy body. I feel like someone has poured hot water on me. l do not have toes now and life is hard," Salephera said, looking worried.
Tobias Mofolo is an 80-year-old traditional leader of Utale village. He too has leprosy.
He started suffering from the disease when he was living there with his parents. His both parents died of the disease while at Utale.
"Life is hard, our relatives abandoned us and they don't visit us, l feel numbness then l don't feel anything even when l step on fire or thorns. Well, the Catholic Church is helping us a lot but we lack other needs,” said Mofolo.
Father Samuel Malamulo of Utale 2 Parish says currently they are providing treatment for leprosy at Utale Health and he asked people who are keeping leprosy patients in the villages to send them here for proper treatment.
"Despite providing the much needed care including food, we are failing to take leprosy patients to Kamuzu Central Hospital [in Lilongwe] to access artificial legs and palms due to lack of transport," disclosed Malamulo.
In Mangochi, District Assistant Leprosy Officer Jacob Chadza said currently they have 56 patients suffering from the disease in the district but lack of transport to conduct more awareness campaigns and train health personnel on leprosy is a challenge.
Programmes Manager of National TB and Leprosy Elimination Programme Dr James Mpunga says they are doing everything possible to control the spread of the disease.
"Currently we have put in place several interventions to find more cases and put patients on treatment during early stages so that they can recover before the situation worsens,” explained Dr Mpunga.
Health expert Maziko Matemba stresses the need for the government and partners to invest enough resources in leprosy treatment as the number of people suffering from the disease keeps on rising in the country.
"Currently, leprosy cases are increasing hence the need for more interventions to avoid further spread. We are also pleading with communities to avoid discriminating people suffering from the disease,” said Matemba.
Another health expert, George Jobe, has stressed the need for more awareness on the signs and symptoms of the disease to help people get treatment before the situation worsens.
National coordinator for leprosy management in Malawi Mercy Mziya disclosed that the number of leprosy cases is now at 679 in the country.
"This disease has affected mostly central region districts and currently we are training health workers, sensitising people about the disease and providing treatment to all patients,” said Mziya.
Leprosy is a chronic, but curable infectious disease mainly causing skin lesions and nerve damage. It is caused by infection with the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It mainly affects the skin, eyes, nose and peripheral nerves.
Patients deserve care, love and support to help them deal with the psychological effects of the disease.
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