When staff from The Leprosy Mission Nepal (TLMN) found Jit Narayan, he was living in a small shed by an irrigation canal. He had been diagnosed with leprosy a few years earlier and, because of the stigma associated with the disease, he was severely depressed and suicidal.
Recognising that Jit needed much more than medical care, or even counselling, his new friends encouraged him to take part in TLMN’s community-based inclusive development programme.
This programme is based on decades of experience and aims to help people affected by leprosy and disability to establish livelihoods and live confidently as active members of society.
The programme includes:
- self-help groups, allowing people affected by leprosy and disability to support each other, save and lend money and raise awareness about leprosy in their communities
- skills training, including various forms of vocational education
- self-care support, teaching people with leprosy-associated disability how to look after themselves and prevent their condition from getting worse
- counselling and medical care.
Jit joined a self-help group and began to regain his confidence. Through the group, his understanding of leprosy and disability improved. He learnt about his rights and began to discover that there were many livelihood options open to him. As he learnt to look after himself better, his mental and physical health improved. He received treatment for leprosy and some counselling.
After a while he took a small loan from the group and began to work in a metal workshop. Here he learnt many new skills and he was able to start his own business. Jit is now earning enough money to educate his children and live a good life with his family.
TLMN has found that this kind of ‘wrap-around’ support helps people with all kinds of disabilities learn to live full and happy lives. It challenges the misconceptions that people with disabilities are unable to study, learn new skills, get married, have children and work for a living. It also helps people with disabilities gain enough confidence to stand up for their rights and call for change.
Leprosy is curable and only mildly contagious. Most people have a natural immunity to the type of bacteria that causes it. However, the disease continues to affect millions of people around the world. This is because in some countries misunderstanding, stigma and fear of rejection by families and communities stop people from obtaining diagnosis and treatment.
If left untreated, the disease causes damage to the nerves that supply feeling to the hands, feet, eyes and parts of the face. As a result, when people hurt themselves they do not feel pain, so do not notice their injuries. These wounds, and the ulcers they often cause, can lead to permanent disability. Some people may not be able to close their eyes because of paralysis of the eyelids. This can result in infection and blindness.
Since 1995 a highly effective cure for leprosy has been freely available through the World Health Organization. This has led to a 90 per cent reduction in the disease across the world. If leprosy is treated soon enough, psychosocial and physical disability can be avoided.
The Leprosy Mission is a global charity working to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate people with leprosy. For more information visit www.leprosymission.org or write to The Leprosy Mission International, 80 Windmill Road, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 0QH, UK.