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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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.”

 

 

“STOPPING FOR THE ONE: MY JOURNEY IN INDIA” PART TWO

Vicki Davison, Partnership Advisor, reflects on her recent visit to India.

About half way through the trip, we spent a morning at Salur Hospital, the only hospital in Andhra Pradesh State that provides specialist treatment for leprosy-affected people. As we arrived, we were greeted by the hospital superintendent who showed us round several wards and explained the services offered at the hospital. Salur treats approximately 25,000 patients a year; the treatment provided for general patients subsidises the cost of care for leprosy-affected people. Specialist reconstructive surgery, eye care, ulcer care and diagnostic tests are all available for leprosy patients.

We visited a few of the wards, stopping to pray with patients and listen to their stories. Having spent some time in the men’s ulcer care ward, we were told there was one patient who we had to meet; the staff led us along the corridor into the women’s ward and she was immediately obvious. A young woman of only 20-years-old, Sadhika sat cross-legged on her hospital bed. She was quick to greet me as I sat by her, but her beautiful smile did little to mask the large discoloured patches on her cheeks and deep sadness in her eyes.

Sadhika grew up in Andhra Pradesh with her parents and two older sisters, both of whom are married. From a poor family, she has never been to school and is illiterate. A few years ago, Sadhika developed discoloured patches on her face and arms. Then, when playing with her friends, she caught her foot against a rock. Although it was badly damaged, she didn’t feel a thing. Her family began to panic – they knew something was wrong but couldn’t understand what was happening to their daughter. They took her to Vizianagaram where she was diagnosed with leprosy.

Although her family remained supportive, Sadhika became consumed with guilt and self-hatred. She spent every day terrified that someone would find out she had leprosy. She knew that discrimination because of this disease could be extreme – that she could be abandoned by her community and forced to leave her family. What would she do without them? Unable to read or write, and living under the stigma of leprosy, how would she earn money to eat? Would she have to beg, or worse? And what would happen to her sisters if their in-laws found out? Ashamed to be associated with a family tainted by leprosy, would their husbands leave? Would she ever be anything but a burden to her family? What good was a life ruined by leprosy?

Over time, Sadhika lost all sense of self-worth and became suicidal. The burden of suffering with leprosy overshadowed everything else in her life – her hopes and dreams, even her love for her family. Sadhika struggled on until one day she could bear it no longer. She planned to walk to the local train line and throw herself onto the tracks.

Thankfully something stopped her.

And it wasn’t long before Sadhika was referred to Salur Hospital for specialist treatment and counselling. When I met her, Sadhika had undergone reconstructive surgery on both of her hands to correct the deformities caused by leprosy. Her right foot was carefully bandaged up to cover the ulcer that had formed from an infected cut – a consequence of nerve damage. Although Sadhika has lost all feeling in her feet and will have to practice self-care for the rest of her life, her hands are regaining strength with regular physiotherapy exercises.

More importantly, she has found healing through counselling at the hospital and is starting to dream again.

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Sadhika at Salur Hospital, India

Sadhika’s whole face lit up as she told me how she plans to learn tailoring at our Vocational Training Centre in Vizianagaram. Clothed in a vibrant pink shalwar kameez, I could imagine her sitting behind a sewing machine, chatting and laughing with the other girls, and I couldn’t wait for her training to start.

Sadhika will stay at Salur while her ulcers heal and her hands become stronger. Then she will go to live at the Vocational Training Centre, where she will learn to read and write, and take English and computer lessons.

It was a real privilege to meet Sadhika and hear how she is overcoming the stigma, shame and physical effects of leprosy.

And I’m so excited to see her take her next step and learn tailoring at the training centre – what a transformation that will be!