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

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You’ve cured six year old Akira!

NTD and Research Coordinator Shabina Sadiq reflects on her recent visit to Sri Lanka.

I met Akira and her mum over a year ago when I went to visit The Leprosy Mission’s projects in Sri Lanka.

Like any child she was shy to begin with but very playful, mischievous and with a curious nature, wanting to know why so many people wanted to talk to her mum and not her. Her mum has leprosy and her dad left them when he learnt about his wife’s diagnosis. Akira was only a baby when he left and she has never seen him since.

Whilst we are talking to her mum, she mentions to the Project Officer and Doctor standing next to her my daughter has a skin patch on her upper arm”.

They immediately turn to Akira and ask to look at the patch.

It is small, the size of a finger print, but significant enough for the Project Officer to say “bring her in to the centre and we will take her for tests”.

Immediately, I find myself looking straight at Akira thinking ‘she looks fine’. Akira, oblivious to what is happening around her, looks at me smiling and pointing, as if to say let’s go and play outside.

I turn back to her mum and suddenly realise that I do not need to worry. Akira’s mum is a Leprosy Champion. I am standing beside an amazingly strong woman  who, like any mother, will fight for her child’s good health.

Over a year later I find myself back in Sri Lanka. Akira’s mum recognises me immediately and comes to shake my hand saying “it’s like meeting an old friend again”. She then points behind me.

I turn and see Akira in the distance, giggling with laughter and waving.

She has completed her MDT and looks like most happy children. She still has the mischievous look in her eye, one that at times I can relate to.

She looks healthy, loved and full of hope.

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Six-year-old Akira’s future is full of hope after being cured of leprosy.

I have seen what can happen when people with leprosy receive the treatment they need quickly – this transformation is thanks to our amazing donors. It’s difficult to think about how different Akira’s life may have been if she hadn’t received the support and care she needed immediately.

Thanks to your support, our teams in Sri Lanka are able to change lives.

Thanks to you, teams in Sri Lanka are able to reach out and support people like Akira’s mum, giving them the confidence, skills and strength to overcome the stigma and discrimination associated with leprosy. Leprosy Champions, such as Akira’s mum, are able support others in their communities.

You have made it possible to train local project staff so they can recognise the signs of leprosy immediately – stopping leprosy in its tracks and preventing disability.

Thanks to you, leprosy doesn’t have the opportunity to steal hope and joy from little children like Akira.

Let’s finish what Jesus started

Today’s reflection is from Gareth Shrubsole, Senior Programme Manager at The Leprosy Mission England & Wales.

“Let’s finish what Jesus started”

This has become a big motivation for my work at The Leprosy Mission. After centuries of fighting this cruel and highly stigmatising disease it’s exciting to see that we could soon have the means to defeat it completely. That means a lot to me, that idea of progress, of doing what we can to make life better for other people, especially those who are so often ignored, rejected or even abused simply because they got an illness.

The Leprosy Mission is like a family.

We’re all quite different from each other, and some of us are even a bit strange! – But we have a common purpose and that gives us great love and friendship with all others who share that purpose, wherever in the world we find them.

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Gareth Shrubsole with colleagues from Chanchaga Orthopaedic Workshop, Nigeria.

I do a lot of travelling in this job which is both exciting and tiring, usually to India and Nigeria. What I love is the opportunity this gives to build relationships with our global partners. After a while some of the places can start to look the same, and then it’s the people who stand out, especially when you start to see how your work is making an impact.

When you see someone lying on a hospital bed in abject suffering and then you see them again 6 months or a year later, sometimes still in the same hospital and other times back in their community; but either way looking healthier and sounding more confident, that’s really rewarding. Especially when you see the real miracles like people regaining the use of their hands after reconstructive surgery or whose sight is restored by cataract surgery.

When you meet an old woman who says she used to beg to survive, but now she’s running her own shop and has spoken out on a public stage – both to demand her rights and to encourage others like her not to succumb to the silence, stigma and shame.

When these things happen that’s when we see God’s hand in the work we do.

When Jesus walked the earth he healed people with leprosy, encouraged the broken-hearted and welcomed in the outcast, sometimes all in the course of a single day. For us mortals it’s harder and can take much longer, but that makes it all the more rewarding when you get to see such transformations happening.

We have a lot of fun in our office, there’s a lot of laughter and often cake, but – like any other office – our day to day work involves spreadsheets, reports, budgets, meetings and many hours staring at a screen. These things can easily get you down, and the commute home in heavy traffic after a long day at the office is as tedious in this job as it would be in any other.

The big difference is that it really is all worth it.

Not only do we get to work with and for so many inspiring and wonderful people, but when we do get to sleep at night we can do it with the satisfaction that we’re making a difference. That’s the real X-factor!