Kate’s Purulia diary: “It’s not even 9am and the place is nearly full.”

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.

I’ve been told it’s a busy outpatients’ department here, with up to 300 people coming in every day.

It’s Monday morning and it seems like all 300 people have all turned up in the past half hour, but even more keep streaming in.

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The queues are long, but still more people stream in.

Mornings in Purulia begin before the sun rises, with people travelling from miles around to come here.  For me the sun is a low hazy glow on the horizon by the time I join the road.

The pinks and oranges filter through and paint the fields as amber.  From the guest house I see the steady flow of travellers increase, many trundling past the gate wrapped up in shawls and blankets. They were nearing the end of their long journeys.

I walk down the dusty track towards the hospital. A bullock cart trundles by; a couple arrive; a mum with a small baby, an elderly man barely able to walk, weary already from the night of travelling.

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Walking to the hospital

Before me, the waiting room is abuzz with people.  It’s not even 9am and the place is nearly full. I struggle to get past. There are queues and queues of people – the queue is snaking out of the door.  I’m amazed at the patience of the staff.

There aren’t enough seats and so many people are sat on the cold stone floor. This is the reality of the outpatients’ department of West Bengal’s specialist leprosy hospital in Purulia.

Later, it’s mid-afternoon and I hear a doctor call out “Quick, quick, come quick!”  There are over 50 people in the queue. “It’s out of control!” she says.

At the back of the pharmacy queue are the mum and baby who I had seen sitting on the floor hours ago. They look exhausted. The little girl wants to go home. Her mum strokes her head and soothes her as best she can.

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No more seats left

I make my way to a consultation room where an examination is taking place. The doctor does his best in the circumstances but it’s a shared space and there are no curtains or a quiet area to talk confidentially.

Wrapped in a shawl, a young woman looks around to see the queue behind her is now a swarm spilling out the door. It makes me feel uncomfortable as they lean on the low partition peering over while her leg is examined.

I then meet Lavanya. She’s travelled such a long way to get here, starting her journey in the dead of night. She travelled 60 miles by bus and on foot all to get to this place of healing.  I try to hide my shock as she comes into the consultation room, avoiding all eye contact.

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Lavanya

She’s beautiful, wearing a bright orange cardigan and a green sari.

She was diagnosed with leprosy recently, and is now coming to Purulia to start her multidrug therapy – the course of drugs that will cure her.

Both grace and pain linger in her eyes and something in me tells me that I need to sit and listen to her story.

Lavanya’s story had such an impact on me and I’ll be sharing the next part of my encounter with her very soon, so keep an eye out for my next post. Did you know that you can give a gift to help secure the future of Purulia Hospital’s outpatients’ department? It’s under immense strain and a new building with modern medical facilities is planned, but the hospital needs your help. Find out more.

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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.

Kevin’s in India!

 

Kevin Baugh, Programmes Funding Officer, is currently on his first Indian field visit to monitor The Leprosy Mission projects. He’s been thrown in at the deep end and in the first few days of his trip he has already visited The Leprosy Mission hospital in Kolkata, taken a seven hour train journey to see Bankura Vocational Training Centre, visited the home for elderly people affected by leprosy, seen The Leprosy Mission’s hospital in Purulia and then travelled all the way back to Kolkata for flight transfers to the next region where we work – exhausting stuff! He’s just finished visiting our partner projects at Brighter Future in Vizianagaram, from where he reports: ‘All well here – having amazing time – India is all total assault on all your senses & emotions. I have fallen in love with the Indian people! I have been blown away by Brighter Future – the staff are amazing too – in fact I have been saying that where ever I have been’

We wish Kevin all the best for the rest of his trip and hope he doesn’t wear that shirt back in the office !!