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Pandemic brings more suffering to India's leprosy patients

Even as India dares to breathe easier as the infections and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be lessening, an invisibilized community of leprosy patients are doubly disadvantaged.

While COVID-19 has hit India with a ferocity not seen before, the staff at St Anthony’s Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre in Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, South India, are only too aware of the effect that COVID-19 might have on the health of people affected by leprosy and all who live in the community.

"Our leprosy community residents, too, are affected with COVID-19," said Father Innaiah Govindu, superintendent at St Anthony’s. "I have kept them under home quarantine and treating them as best we can."

"When normal patients are struggling for a place in the hospitals, it's almost pointless to mention the plight of these vulnerable and neglected people with leprosy," he added.

During the peak of the pandemic in May, the leprosy patients were "in the grip of fear and danger" and were unsure about their destiny, said the priest.

St. Anthony's at present supports 46 leprosy patients -- 26 women and 20 men. There are also 19 children whose parents are affected by the disease, and five married couples. 

St. Anthony's Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre is associated with  St Francis Leprosy Guild (SFLG), a UK based Catholic Charity, that has cared for people with leprosy for the past 125 years.

“As the world is suffering from the effects of COVID-19, it is difficult to appreciate that there is another terrible disease out there,” said Clare McIntosh, chief executive officer of SFLG.

While the existence of leprosy is well known from the Bible, Egyptian papyri, Roman herbals and medieval manuscripts, its cause was not discovered until 1873 and a cure, as recently as 1980s.”

“My great concern is that people with leprosy may not be getting their core leprosy treatment as healthcare providers prioritize COVID-19 above all else," said McIntosh.

It is crucial that people with leprosy receive MDT otherwise there is a risk that they may develop terrible disabilities.

St. Anthony's mission is to restore human dignity and take care of people affected by leprosy and their dependents, who have been neglected and discriminated by their families and society an account of leprosy. 

The center provides shelter, food, medical aid, clothing, shoes, and education for their children.

India officially eliminated leprosy in 2005, reducing its prevalence rate to 0.72 per 10,000 people at national level. But the country now hosts 66 percent of all leprosy patients in the world, data from the World Health Organization showed. - Frank Krishner/RVA News


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