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  never receive the treatment they desperately need to prevent disability. But thanks to the dedication and servant hearts of Dr Helen and her team, people like Rajeev receive the precious gift of the cure, stopping leprosy from ravaging their bodies.

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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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From fear and desperation to hope for the future in Nepal

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Surroundings of Anandaban Hospital. Photo: Tom Bradley

Laura Stopczynski shares her experiences of visiting Leprosy Mission projects in Nepal.

Nepal is a breathtakingly beautiful country. Despite the devastation of the earthquake two years ago, it’s also a very resilient country, with an incredible testimony of survival through great hardship. I don’t think I could have fully prepared myself for what I was about to encounter there.

There is not one word which can describe my trip to Nepal. Meeting people affected by leprosy and seeing the Mission’s work for the first time was quite an overwhelming, burdening and sad experience, yet at each hospital that I visited, I saw an outpouring of God’s love and the hope of Jesus and realised that being part of the Leprosy Mission family means we are all helping to transform the lives of people affected by leprosy, in many different ways.

But I also felt overwhelmed by the amount of desperation and need. I wasn’t sure how to process everything. Over and over again, I kept thinking about what was next for these people? What was their future going to be like? What will happen to them? It’s hard, knowing that ultimately there is no ‘quick fix’ for people whose lives are so affected by disability and poverty.

Despite this, I repeatedly saw the staff interact with each and every patient, showing them kindness, love, support and ultimately hope through their actions. It showed me that whatever role we have, whatever we are doing, if we act with love; genuine and integral love – we can make a lasting difference.

There are many stories which I could share about my trip but one in particular has stuck with me. I would like to tell you about meeting Suman.

I met Suman when I was in Surkhet, a beautiful and peaceful place. The clinic there is relatively small but is a safe haven and beacon of hope for so many in the rural western parts of Nepal.

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Suman at the Surkhet clinic, where he receives ulcer treatment

Despite the huge cast on his foot and his struggle to walk, Suman had so much energy about him. He had the biggest smile on his face and was quick to make me smile too.

It was obvious to see his joy and comfort from being at the clinic, especially when he saw counsellor Gyann Gurrang.  It was wonderful to see their undeniable friendship and the strong bond between them.

Gyann is so invested in his patients and my admiration for him is unbelievable. His role is to listen to patients day in and day out, trying to help them deal with the mental and emotional pain of having leprosy. It takes a lot of inner strength to carry those burdens.

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Gyann, the clinic counsellor

Suman’s leprosy journey began when he first noticed a loss of feeling in his hands and feet and then also discoloured patches on his back. A devout Hindu, he was terrified that he had done something to upset the Gods. He was so afraid that he went to a local healer straight away. When his patches didn’t disappear and his loss of sensation only grew worse, he was in complete desperation.

“Why have the Gods done this to me, what have I done to deserve this?” he remembered thinking.

After confiding in his uncle, who directed him to the clinic to get help, Suman was diagnosed with leprosy at 50 years old. To his amazement, the doctor explained to him that the disease is curable, totally changing Suman’s outlook on what was happening to him. He started to take multidrug therapy and was soon cured.

However, Suman’s story didn’t end there. He has been in and out of the Surkhet clinic for the past 11 years, suffering with recurring ulcers, a common side effect of leprosy. Even though he has disabled hands and feet, he still has to provide for his family. As a manual labourer, he has little time to rest and little chance for his wounds to heal. Sadly, this is the case for a lot of people who are affected by leprosy. The need to earn a living and provide for their families has to take precedence over recuperation.

When I asked Suman about his future and what he hoped to do, he got very excited. His eyes widened and I could tell he was extremely pleased to tell me this part of his story. He explained he has been provided with five goats and that he has sold some and made a profit, but will rear the others and sell their milk.

It was just so wonderful to hear him so proud of what he was achieving despite his struggles.

Suman’s life has been transformed, from being full of fear and desperation, to healing, joy and excitement about what the future holds. This wouldn’t have been possible without your support. We are all playing our part to help Suman and so many others like him.