Nigeria’s forgotten people: ‘We are leprous but we are also human beings’

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By Wole Mosadomi, Minna

On January 29, the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, gave a stunning revelation that 2,892 new cases of leprosy had been detected in Nigeria despite the efforts to rid the nation of the ailment.

The newest statistics rank Nigeria as third in Africa with the highest burden of leprosy.

Shocking as the revelation may be, it may not be surprising because of the almost total neglect of the people afflicted with the ailment by government and even the society.

Leprosy is not contagious, not hereditary curable, especially if reported to the appropriate health centres early and, above all, the drugs for the treatment are free.

However, it is sad to see the way those affected by the disease live in this country.

Meanwhile, an International organisation, Leprosy Mission Nigeria (TLMN), is doing the best it can to give those suffering from leprosy in the country a sense of belonging. The organisation treats them free of charge and feeds them.

*Inmates of the Chanchaga Leprosarium Centre… cured of leprosy.

Our correspondent visited three communities inhabited by people afficted by leprosy in Niger State and they told their tales of woe.

The communities are Kampani Sarki Pawa in Munya Local Government area, Kuta in Shiroro Local Government Area and Chanchaga in Chanchaga Local Government Area.

Kampani has been in existence for over 63years and presently has a population of about 500 inhabitants who are mainly those afflicted by leprosy but now cured.

The community leader, Daudu Badakoshi, 77, with three wives and 11 children, in an interview with our correspondent, said he was afflicted by leprosy for many years but had been treated and cured.

Surrounded by his wives, children and some of the villagers, Badakoshi described leprosy as any other disease like malaria and typhoid that are curable, with infected people completely free of the ailment.

“It is unfortunate that, even with the cure, some members of the public still keep away from us and therefore have nothing to do with us. This has affected our children because they don’t go to school because the only school around us is privately owned and, besides our children being rejected by the school, we cannot afford the fee”, he said.

“The Leprosy Mission in Nigeria is our saviour. They gave us a borehole, give us clothes and they have even selected some of our children to acquire skill in tailoring, computer and also built four toilets for the community”.

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Another member of the community but who is not affected by the ailment, Yakubu Dogo, and the community woman leader, Victoria Ezra, paid glowing tribute to the Leprosy Mission which, they said, had helped them out of total neglect and life which would have been full of misery.

At Kuta, it was gathered that the community had been in existence for the past 50 years and had been a centre for the North Central for people affected by leprosy.

Most of the buildings in the community, including the clinic where the people with leprosy are treated, are dilapidated.

The community leader, Hassan Auta, 54, in an interview, said he contracted the leprosy virus about 10 years ago, adding that he has now been cured and blessed with children who are not leprous.

“In this community, no fewer than 50 people, including children, had leprosy but about 30 are still receiving treatment with high hopes of being cured”, Auta stated.

“The Leprosy Mission of Nigeria has provided us with borehole, electricity, clinic and workshop, but we have never felt the impact of either the state or local government and, the worst of it all is that the vast land given to us, years back, is now being encroached upon by influential people in the society, those who had run away from us but are now attracted to the community as a result of electricity and potable water we enjoy courtesy of the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria.

“We feel the presence of government only during political campaigns when they promise goodies only to neglect us immediately after getting to office”.

The women leader, Ramatu Adamu, 52, said she contracted the virus as a child but that she had been cured and therefore called on those seeing signs of infection to present themselves for check-up early in order to be cured.

The Chanchaga Leprosy Community, which is the oldest (85years) of the three communities, has the largest population of infected persons and also a referral centre which, from its look, has long been neglected by government.

Vehicles have to be parked several meters away from the centre because of the dilapidated road while the buildings accommodating those infected can easily be taken to be a house for animals.

The mattresses spread on bare flood were torn while the floor of the wards was broken with grass growing within.

No wonder, snakes and other reptiles are said to be roommates to the patients.

Common medication was not available thereby making treatment of the patients very difficult.

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As hidden as the centre is, there is no standby generator to supply electricity whenever there is power failure.

Officers on duty at the centre when Sunday Vanguard visited kept sealed lips on the situation of the environment and the lack of materials for treatment.

At the orthopedic workshop at the centre, the officer in charge, Mr. Linus Osuchukwu, who conducted our correspondent round the stands bearing various types of artificial limbs, said the workshop is the only one serving the North Central of the country, pointing out that limbs are provided free to leprosy patients by the facility while accident victims in need of limbs pay.

Residents of the community with a population of about 600, comprising of certified and discharged leprosy patients, are predominantly farmers and still live an isolated life.

They called on the state government and individuals to come to their aid through the provision of basic amenities.

The country representative of the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria, Dr.Pius Ogbu Sunday, in an interview, said the aim of the body is to partner with government to bring succour to those afflicted by leprosy.

“We are only supporting government in rendering services to those infected and not taking over government responsibility completely”, Sunday explained.

“We support government in looking for case findings and, when they are found, we support the findings with drugs and feeding and we refer those with complicated cases to BOWEN University Teaching Hospital, Ogbomosho where we cater for their feeding and accommodation”.

On the time frame of the mission in Nigeria, he said, “We don’t have a time frame yet but like in Niger State, we have been running our projects for the past 22 years. Meanwhile, the truth is that Leprosy Mission will not be here in Nigeria or Niger State for ever but the Ministry of Health, which is designed to take over, will be here for ever and that is why government at all levels has to pick interest in this project and if there is any time for this, I think it is now.”

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