Foundation calls for urgent intervention, empowerment for persons living with leprosy
National Co-ordinator, Voice of Humanitarian Aid Foundation (VOHAF), Franca Emekobun, has called for an urgent intervention and renewed commitments to scale up efforts towards eradicating leprosy in the country. This, Emekobun said is due to the increasingly worrisome number of over 3,000 Nigerians officially presenting with new cases of leprosy yearly.
Although, the country had been declared leprosy free in 1998, high prevalence rate of the disease is still experienced, report says.Urging the government to empower People Living with Leprosy (PLWL) and provide education for their children, the Co-ordinator said this would enable them develop their human potentials and dignity to the highest peak.
“PLWL should be empowered as they can be powerful agent of social change in the society. Government should make laws to protect the rights of people affected or living with leprosy because they are also human, that deserves the right to life, good medical care, their children which most times are being neglected to stay with them in camp have the rights to go to school, among others,” she stated.
The disease, which is a chronic infectious disease is caused by a bacillus (rod-shaped) bacterium known as Mycobacterium leprae that primarily affects the peripheral nerves, skin, upper respiratory tract, eyes, and nasal mucosa (lining of the nose).Speaking with The Guardian, Emekobun said early detection and increased awareness is germane to fighting leprosy because of the neglect PLWL encounter daily.
She stressed that many leprosy patients has resorted to begging alms just to afford their children’s education, adding that PLWL are always stigmatized and often treated as outcasts due to the deforming and disabling complication of the disease, which prevents them from being gainfully employed.
Describing leprosy as one of the leading permanent physical deformity, she said early detection would ensure an effective treatment and also reduce the increasing numbers of persons living with leprosy.She noted that although leprosy remains a disease of poverty, it is curable multi drugs, which are effective and free in leprosy centres across the country.On the foundation’s vision, Emekobun said it is to create a world where discrimination against persons affected by leprosy is eliminated.
In her words: “Our plan for the year is to launch the “Early detection campaign” and we hope to reach every state of the nation. This awareness is to stop the spread of leprosy and enlighten the society not to castigate them,” she added.“Our visit to leprosy centres has improved their lives. We have involved some state government to provide some basic amenities for these colonies, though not enough. Domain Foundation has been of great impact because they administer free medical treatment. We have also empowered three people and sponsored six children’s education. We need support from private and public organisations to do more for PLWL”.
On the effect of the disease to the body, she noted that because the disease causes loss of sensation, the person is fraught with danger, hence, this unnoticed burns and skin ulcers leads to permanent disability.
The Co-ordinator who debunked some misconceptions, said the disease is not highly contagious and not hereditary but after a prolong contact with the affected persons.
“Touching them alone cannot cause it. Once they are starting the multi drug therapy, which goes for 6 months or 1 year depending on the stage, the bacteria cannot be transmitted. It can only spread from persons who have untreated leprosy, to persons who have low resistance to the disease,” Emekobun said.
On recommendations, the Foundation’s Deputy National Co-ordinator, Olaniyi Peters said government should see leprosy elimination as a public health problem, adding that development of partnerships and implementation of integrated disease surveillance will ensure effective and sustainable elimination of leprosy in all countries.
He encouraged PLWL to visit the leprosy clinic often for proper supervision and education on the importance of compliance with the treatment. On signs to watch out for, Peters said are severe pain, muscle weakness and paralysis (especially in the hands and feet), thick, stiff or dry skin, discoloured skin lesions, white patches of the skin with loss of sensation, among others.He urged members of the society not to castigate PLWL but to embrace and support them in every way possible.