When most people hear the word leprosy, they think of some ancient, biblical disease long gone. But in some part of the world, this condition is still around causing deadly effects.
Several miles outside of Juba, the southern Sudanese capital, is a leper colony, a place where those suffering from the old but curable disease come for treatment. In this Sudanese community, lepers are ostracized, but at the colony in Lori-Rokwe, family members care for the victims. There are some 3,000 people living in the colony, but only about 350 have the disease.
According to official reports received during 2008 from 118 countries and territories, the global registered prevalence of leprosy at the beginning of 2008 stood at 212,802 cases, while the number of new cases detected during 2007 was 254. The number of new cases detected globally has fallen by 11,100 cases (a 4 percent decrease) during 2007 compared with 2006. In nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America leprosy is still considered a public health problem. These countries account for about 75 percent of the global disease burden.
Leprosy causes permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear, but treatment in the early stages averts disability. Leprosy is difficult to catch and is spread through long-term contact.
Made up of traditional thatch huts or simple shacks, the Lori-Rokwe colony is surrounded by extremely poor conditions. People at the colony face a lot of problems. Food is scarce and they depend on food aid. They do not have work. The only way to get money is by cutting grass and fire wood, which they sell in the market. The do not have any other income says Marcello, senior nurse in Lori-Rokwe, who was also affected by leprosy before.
"People are suffering from hunger the food they had is brought by World food program and it is not enough, because each person is to take one bag of food only," Marcello Dura Senior Nurse told the UN.
Marcello says there are many challenges; they don't have clothes, mosquito nets, blankets, saucepans for cooking and many other necessities. The people in Lori-Rokwe village live in extremely poor housing - mainly made up of traditional thatch huts or simple shacks.
Catherine Zakayo got the disease at a very young age and was brought to the leper colony as a young girl in 1952. She is blind and lives alone. She has seven children working in Juba and they come to visit her regularly.
"I believe a poor person should be helped, but what I know is the children that God has given me are the ones supporting me including the food that I am eating. Inside my hut I don't have anything," Catherine Zakayo told the UN
Luri Rokwe's most disabled residents are the elders, an indication of the lack of treatment when they fell ill decades ago. Despite the challenges the community faces the clinic gets its support from the government. Leprosy has been curable for decades, but the stigma surrounding those who suffered from this illness continues.
To learn about how to get involved in this cause, visit: http://www.leprosy.org.
Sources: United Nations, World Health Organization, Leprosy.org, BBC
Images (including cover photo) Courtesy of the United Nations: Tim McKulka
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