Kate’s Purulia Diary Part Two; “Lavanya’s battle against leprosy had begun.”

In late 2016, Kate Gent visited Purulia Hospital in West Bengal to see how Leprosy Mission staff are dealing with a huge rise in patient numbers there. Here, she shares her story.

Lavanya sat staring at her hands – this said it all. Her battle against leprosy had begun.

We sat in the counselling room at Purulia Hospital, a shared space with no privacy. Another consultation was about to start and there were people queuing nearby.  I felt flustered for her.

Even the word leprosy is enough to fill people here in India with dread.  But I admired Lavanya’s courage in the face of adversity.

It took a huge amount of bravery for her to make the long journey back to the hospital to start her treatment and she was clearly feeling very anxious. I can see it in her eyes, her posture, as wrapped up in a cardigan and scarf, she clutches her hands together tightly.

Examining Lavanya’s arm.

She’s experienced tingling and pain in her arm. There’s a risk this could be signs of nerve damage from leprosy. Without close monitoring this could develop into serious problems, such as immovable clawed hands.

The doctor presses her elbow to test the nerves; he says they have thickened. This isn’t good news.

He points out the pale skin patches, slightly faded but still numb. Leprosy must be so easy to misdiagnose without the skill and expertise of these doctors.

Lavanya’s lips tremble: she needs further tests.  In a tiny room, the physiotherapist examines her palms and soles of her feet. With her eyes closed, she points out where she feels sensation.

In the physiotherapy room.

Leprosy has caused greater damage than she thought. Although her hands are still reasonably flexible, she will need continued monitoring of the nerves and physiotherapy.

She says she is okay, but then she puts her head in her hands. Tears begin to roll down her cheeks. Self consciously she looks at me and when she saw my eyes fill with tears too, gradually, she begins to open up.

When Lavanya first found the numb patches, she tried homeopathic remedies.  After three months she came to Purulia, having heard of the hospital’s reputation for skin and eye care, but her numbness was even worse by that point.

When she was diagnosed with leprosy she was really scared. Her husband seems supportive but he also tells her it’s a bad disease so she shouldn’t tell the neighbours about it.

She wouldn’t dare – she’s the only one with leprosy in the village. She will never tell her friends because she’s too afraid she will end up alone.

Her biggest concern is that her husband could turn against her. They have two little children; her youngest has just started walking and her son has just turned five.  If he were to throw her out, how could she manage alone?

My heart went out to Lavanya, and I prayed that God would help me to help her.  As our only shared language, she lent me a gentle, sad smile and wiped her tears with her scarf.

After I had followed her through her outpatient journey, we shared a few moments near the central courtyard.

A little girl came toddling over, her tiny arms outstretched. Lavanya bent down and scooped her up.  Her eyes lit up: her baby girl was there waiting for her.

Lavanya and her daughter.

The road ahead is not going to be easy for this family. Although it’s fantastic that Lavanya’s got the cure and is in the hands of experts, there is still a lot for her to face. She will need Purulia Hospital more than ever, returning every month for her medicines, to learn physiotherapy exercises and to receive check-ups.

As our time together drew to a close, her little girl began rubbing her sleepy eyes, she turned her head and nestled into her mum, ready for their long journey back home – 60 miles from the hospital.

Even now I’m back in England, I think of Lavanya often. I’m so thankful that Purulia Hospital is uniquely placed in an area of India with high levels of leprosy.  But what weighs heavy on my heart is the strain this hospital is under.

There are so many more people who still need help and I would hate to see them turned away.  I owe it to Lavanya and her daughter to not let that happen. That’s why I resolved to tell as many people as I can about my visit to Purulia. The hospital needs a new Outpatients’ Department – and you can partner with The Leprosy Mission to make it happen. Find out how and give a gift today.


This World Leprosy Day, help secure Purulia’s future

A man makes his way to Purulia Hospital, West Bengal.
A man makes his way to Purulia Hospital, West Bengal.

Early every morning, a steady stream of people make their way along the road to Purulia Hospital in rural West Bengal, India. Many of them have travelled for hours to get there, sometimes setting off in the middle of the night to make sure they arrive in good time. The hospital is known for many miles around as a beacon of hope – a place where specialist leprosy care is provided at no cost. This is a real lifeline to those living in poverty, who are unable to afford to pay for treatment at government hospitals.

Increasingly, as people arrive at the hospital, they are confronted by a long queue of people waiting to be seen at the outpatients’ department (OPD). Between 2014 and 2015, the number of patients seen at the OPD increased from 15,000 to 45,000, meaning that up to 300 people are arriving at the hospital seeking help every day.

Queuing at the outpatients' department (OPD).
Queuing at the outpatients’ department (OPD).

World Leprosy Day 2017 is on 29 January. It’s a day when we look at how far the treatment of leprosy has come – and Purulia Hospital has been instrumental in pioneering such treatment. As The Leprosy Mission’s oldest hospital, it has been caring for people in West Bengal for more than 130 years.

But World Leprosy Day is also a day when we act to make a difference to those still living with leprosy. Many of them come to Purulia, desperate for help. And although staff at the hospital are determined never to turn anyone away, they admit they are reaching breaking point – because the OPD is under-resourced and in need of transformation.

Patients queue for hours in the heat outside because the waiting room is too small; the doctors work in cramped conditions where there is little privacy for patients as they undergo consultations; the toilets and washing facilities are limited, with no running water.

A woman undergoes a consultation while other patients queue around her.
A woman undergoes a consultation while other patients queue around her.

If Purulia is to continue to provide the treatment that people affected by leprosy desperately need, something must change. And so this month, we’re inviting you to partner with us to transform the hospital with a brand-new OPD. The new OPD will be spacious, with plenty of treatment rooms, new equipment and enough toilets and washing facilities. It will mean the hospital can cope with the increasing demands on its capacity and treat more people like Kushmi.

Kushmi travelled for five hours to get to Purulia with an open wound on her leg.
Kushmi travelled for five hours to get to Purulia with an open wound on her leg.

Severely disabled by leprosy with one leg amputated below the knee, Kushmi had an open wound on the stump, caused by her badly-fitting prosthetic leg. Struggling to walk, she arrived at the hospital after a five-hour journey. Kushmi urgently needed help and was soon in the expert care of Purulia’s doctors. But there are countless people like her that will continue to come to the hospital – and its our hope that they will receive the very best care.

This World Leprosy Day, partner with us to transform Purulia Hospital. Every gift will go towards the building project that will construct a new OPD, making sure The Leprosy Mission can continue to serve thousands of people affected by leprosy. Give a gift today and you’ll be sowing into the future of this very special hospital, its staff and its patients.

Find out more about how you can fundraise for Purulia by holding an event or church service.

Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1: 17b NLT

A respected wife,daughter-in-law and member of her community; Rekah had no idea how leprosy could change everything

Leprosy is a cruel disease; it robs people of their health and they are frequently denied the most basic entitlements. Often, they don’t even have a voice in their local communities. At The Leprosy Mission, we don’t think that’s acceptable, so a large part of our work focuses on justice and dignity.
Rekah was rejected and stigmatised because of leprosy. She told her story to Neelmani, Naini hospital’s counsellor.

‘My village is more than 100km from here, so my brother brought me. Before visiting here he took me to a private doctor who said, ‘this is leprosy and you must take her to Naini hospital’. I spent a lot of time, energy and money trying to find out what my disease was.

‘Previously I worked in the fields. That made my feet worse. I have anaesthetic hands and feet. If I get a burn I don’t realise it.

Neelmani explains that Rekah has a husband and children, but he is neglectful of his family and plays no supporting role.

‘I was taking MDT [multidrug therapy, the cure for leprosy]. After a few months I developed an ulcer and was admitted. One day at home, while I was sleeping, a cat or a rat had bitten my anaesthetic foot. It was bleeding and I was very disturbed and thought ‘I will die. Now I won’t cause any problems to anyone’, so didn’t call my brother. It became worse so I called him to bring me here. He took responsibility for me and consoled me. He said, “I’ll look after you, even though it is very difficult”.

‘I’ve had some stigma from the community because of leprosy. The family and community use bad words about me. Some relatives say “she is smelly; take her to the leprosy hospital”. Before the leprosy, everyone was normal to me. I was a good wife and daughter-in-law, everyone respected me.’ 

At this point Rekah became too distressed to continue.

Rekah found medical and emotional support at Naini hospital; without it, she would still be searching for the help she so desperately needs. If you can support our work at Naini, you will help to give leprosy-affected people back their voice, dignity and purpose.

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