Dr Helen Roberts speaks with Rajeev

For Rajeev, the cure for leprosy is a gift more precious than gold

Lizzy Standbrook recently accompanied a medical outreach team to a remote area of West Bengal, India, on a mission to find and help people who would otherwise have no access to medical care.

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Docking at one of the remote villages in West Bengal where medical outreach teams travel to find new cases of leprosy

On the day we met Rajeev, it took nearly all day for the outreach team from Premananda Hospital to travel by train, jeep and boat from Kolkata to his village.

Leprosy hides in remote villages like the one where Rajeev lives. There is no medical care readily available and people live a hand to mouth existence. For most of them, affording the journey to a clinic or hospital further afield is unthinkable. There is little awareness of the symptoms of leprosy. And so cases of the disease often go undetected, with devastating effects.

My overwhelming feeling is how exhausting running these clinics must be for Dr Helen Roberts, Superintendent at Premananda, and her team. In addition to treating the hundreds of people turning up every day, there is all the packing and unpacking, carrying cases of supplies, lifting them in and out of cars and boats. That day some of this was done as torrential rain fell and thunder crashed overhead.

Setting up the outreach clinic in Rajeev's village
Setting up the outreach clinic in Rajeev’s village

Opening up their outreach clinic in a disused school building, Dr Helen and her colleagues set up tables and unpacked boxes of medication. One desk for eye problems, another for diabetes cases, a big problem in the region – and a desk for skin issues, where people with suspected leprosy would be seen. A crowd quickly began to gather and I soon understood why – no doctor had visited the village for ten years.

Incredibly, 300 people came to the clinic that day – more than we had ever expected. People queued around the room. Suddenly, we were called over to Dr Helen’s table. She was examining the torso of a man – Rajeev – who had arrived with his 12-year-old daughter. Straight away I noticed the tell-tale patch of lighter skin covering some of his chin. Dr Helen pointed out lesions on his arms and showed us that Rajeev’s daughter had them too.

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Dr Helen Roberts speaks with Rajeev

Rajeev told us that he didn’t live far from the clinic and that he was worried about his wife and other children. Could they all have leprosy? There is certainly a risk to other members of a family once one member has the disease. Dr Helen decided that we would visit their home once the clinic was finished so she could examine everyone. If she had reason to believe that Rajeev’s wife and children had leprosy, the whole family would be taken back to Premananda Hospital for treatment.

Rajeev could never have afforded the cost of the journey to hospital in Kolkata and this is why so many cases of leprosy like his never receive the treatment they desperately need to prevent disability. But thanks to the dedication and servant hearts of Dr Helen and her team, he has been given the precious gift of the cure, stopping leprosy from ravaging his body.

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Dr Helen examines one of Rajeev’s daughters at the family’s home

They are so committed, going where no other medical professionals will go, caring for people who are marginalised and often so stigmatised due to the prejudice surrounding leprosy. For people like Rajeev, they are a lifeline – and I was in awe of how far they would go to make a difference.

This Christmas, support Dr Helen and her team as they reach more people like Rajeev with an incredible gift. A gift from you of £24 could find and cure someone before leprosy can do its worst, changing their life forever. Please help today.

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An update from Purulia Hospital

As you know, Purulia Hospital in West Bengal has been through many changes in the last year. From the exciting developments in the new Out Patients’ Department (OPD) – made possible by your wonderful support and faithful prayers – to changes in the team who serve our leprosy-affected brothers and sisters.

Earlier this year, after many years of incredible commitment to the hospital, God led Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima Darlong into the next step of their journey. Their hearts have always been to heal leprosy-affected people and see their lives restored, and both have stayed true to this calling.

Now the Head of Knowledge Management and Head of Healthcare for The Leprosy Mission in India respectively, Dr Joydeepa manages leprosy research, training and sharing of knowledge across all of our teams in India, and Dr Famkima oversees TLM’s 14 hospitals and medical camps throughout the country.

Dr Joy & Fam
Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima Darlong

The couple relocated to Delhi, where they live with their daughter, and now their reach is wider and greater than ever. Often involved in medical conferences, they are positioned perfectly by God to improve healthcare in India and to influence the global fight against leprosy and disability.

Both Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima often go back to Purulia to visit the team and patients during their weekends. The hospital will always hold a special place in their hearts but they know they are in the centre of God’s will for their lives – and there is no better place for them to be.

Our new Superintendent at Purulia

Across the worldwide Leprosy Mission family, we are so excited for Dr Joydeepa and Dr Famkima, and equally delighted to welcome our new Superintendent for Purulia Hospital, Dr Ujjwal Hembrom.

Vicki Davison, Partnership Officer at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales, had the privilege of speaking to Dr Ujjwal recently and wanted to share with you his vision for Purulia and his faith in God:

“I was born and brought up in a small village called Ambajora in Jharkhand province, around 200 km from Purulia. I grew up in a Christian home; my maternal grandfather was a pastor and my faith in God has been the focal point of my life.

My daughter is a doctor, working with me at Purulia, and my son is studying journalism. My wife is home maker – she binds us all together as a family. I never wanted to be a doctor! I planned to be an engineer, but God called me into a career in medicine. I spent 11 years working at a mission hospital run by Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church, close to my home in Jharkhand, before joining The Leprosy Mission’s Purulia Hospital in 2001.

Dr Ujwall and his daughter
Dr Ujjwal with his daughter

I worked at Purulia from 2001-2005, so re-joining earlier this year was like coming home. Many of the staff I first worked with are still serving at the hospital and we share fellowship in morning devotionals, and a weekly time of worship and Bible study at one of our homes.”

“There is something very special about Purulia and I believe it comes from our
team’s heart and commitment to God. Most of our staff here are from leprosy-affected families so their love for our patients is real. They are full of understanding and compassion. Our team’s heart is not to earn more money but to serve. This is what I believe has taken Purulia Hospital from strength to strength over the years. I have seen God move and bless us as our team put Him at the centre of everything we do.”

Vision for Purulia

“The reputation of Purulia extends far beyond West Bengal state. It is known for being a refuge and a place where every patient is given quality medical care and treated with dignity. Leprosy is not just a medical disease so we support each patient with holistic treatment – that’s what they deserve.

Leprosy will always be our focus, but I plan to expand and improve our services in other areas. We will add a specialist service in orthopaedics, increase general disability support, and expand the treatment available for patients suffering with neglected tropical diseases.”

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Purulia Hospital, West Bengal

“My heart is that Purulia will continue to be home to people who have been outcast and abused. Anyone can come and they will be cared for, loved and respected.

Our team will continue to do everything we can for leprosy-affected people, and we will continue to put God first.”

 

 

Look behind the lens of leprosy with photographer, Tom Bradley

We asked photographer, Tom Bradley, to share his experiences from Bangladesh and how your support really can transform the lives of these forgotten communities.

“As I watch Shopna examine patches on the faces of brothers Chaina and Joy, aged six and nine, she takes down their details, marking them both as suspect leprosy cases, Masuma spots another boy in the crowd with facial patches, noticing that he looks just like Joy. She soon discovers that the boy was his twin brother, Bijoy. He too has the telltale patches on his skin – three children from one family potentially affected by leprosy.

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6-year-old twins, Joy and Bijoy, may have leprosy. Photo: Tom Bradley

Shopna is a Field Organiser for The Leprosy Mission’s partner Mukti, and she’s assigned specifically to diagnosing new cases of leprosy, along with her co-worker Ripon. My name’s Tom Bradley; I’ve been photographing people affected by leprosy for almost a decade now, and I’ve been following both Shopna and Ripon for the day, as they have been called out to examine two suspect cases of leprosy in a village in western Bangladesh. Accompanying me are Leprosy Mission staff Masuma and Jiptha, both of whom are also trained to recognise leprosy cases.

But Bijoy isn’t the only extra case that day. As Shopna begins to examine him, another boy, 10-year-old Durantha, is pushed to the front of the onlooking crowd of children. He also has patches on his face. And he is not the last unexpected case that day either.

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10-year-old Durantha has patches on his face. Photo: Tom Bradley

We walk through the village on this very hot and humid morning, followed by a number of children and a few adults. Most of the men are out working in the fields, and a few of the women steal away from their work preparing food, looking after the house and children and tending to any livestock left at home.

As we leave the village, we walk along narrow paths, slightly raised up with earth to divide the square rice paddies.

It seems it’s difficult to even leave the village without spotting yet another child with patches of leprosy.

Meanwhile Shopna and Masuma, walking a little behind us, are called off to someone’s house, having just been informed of another child who has patches on their face. Two more suspect cases are discovered. Having caught up with us, Shopna takes over from Jiptha to take down the boys’ details.

As we move onto the next village, just across the road, Shopna comes across a young man with patches on his arm. The patches show signs of clear anaesthesia, and then Shopna realises his mother is affected by leprosy, although she was cured some time ago. The young man, Dukhiram, is confirmed as a new case and Shopna notes down his contact details so he can be supplied with the vital MDT tablets as soon as possible.

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Shopna checking the patch on Dukhiram’s arm. Photo: Tom Bradley

The next village is much the same as the first, and though we’re going primarily for my benefit, to interview an old patient I have met before, Shopna is busy wading through the crowd picking out people with patches on their face.

The work seems neverending – so many suspected new cases found.

Shopna hasn’t yet been doing this work for a month, but already enjoys it greatly.

“When I visited the field last month, I felt very encouraged. If I visit more areas I can identify more people affected.” Shopna tells me. “I feel it’s such a great opportunity to work with them and help them get treatment in time. I feel really proud doing this work.”

I can see Shopna enjoys her new job and is so good at interacting with the people she meets, smiling and reassuring them, but also listening with genuine concern if they talk about their problems.

“Now so many women come to meet with me and talk about different issues,” she says.

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Shopna works tirelessly to ensure people with leprosy are diagnosed and treated. Photo: Tom Bradley

Shopna’s job, which takes her out into the community most days in the week is absolutely vital in effort to combat leprosy in the area, where people living in remote villages may not get the treatment they need otherwise, their leprosy left undiagnosed.

On this day alone she registers ten new suspect cases and one new confirmed case. The suspect cases will all be followed-up regularly, so that if their patch does indeed turn out to be leprosy they can be put on treatment and cured, hopefully, without complication. The longer leprosy is left untreated, the more potential it has to cause severe disability and have an even greater impact on someone’s life.

People like Shopna work tirelessly to prevent this from happening, a real lifeline to the people they meet.”

You can see more of Tom’s work on his website or on Twitter/Instagram @tombradleyphoto