Leprosy patients, families thrive at govt housing project

Leprosy-affected patients and their families are leading lives of dignity and self-esteem at the government-implemented housing project for social outcasts at Bandabari in Kaliakair upazila of Gazipur. 

Visiting the site of “Protyasha Ashrayan Project” at Bandabari, this correspondent found leprosy patients and their family members, who used to beg, now self-reliant through different income-generating activities like cattle farming, poultry farming and cultivating vegetables on land allocated by the government.

Habibur Rahman, 65, from Kurigram, who lost his fingers and toes to leprosy, says he is actively engaged in livestock rearing to improve his living standards.

“I earn handsome profits from my cattle and poultry farm. I am planning to increase investment and expand my project,” he said, adding that many Ashrayan dwellers were involved in farming and other trades.

Julekha Begum, 48, from Naogaon, said her husband Abdul Gafur had lost his limb to leprosy. Her family was later brought under the Ashrayan project. She said she had achieved sustainable income generation through poultry rearing. 

Protyasha Ashrayan was built back in 2000 on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s instructions on 7.92 acres of land in Bandabari of Gazipur. 

The Ashrayan, comprising a mosque, school, clean water and sanitation facilities, a community centre and a pond currently, has a population of around 100. The project initially started with 60 patients affected with leprosy. Of the 60 patients, 40 died of natural causes and the remaining 20 have completely recovered.

Government and non-government organisations provided micro-credit and employment for the inhabitants.

Last year, a study, ‘The Quality of Life (QOL) and Mental Health Status (MHS) of People Affected by Leprosy and People with Leprosy Disability in Bangladesh’, revealed that about 85% of leprosy-disabled people in Bangladesh suffered from psychological problems besides many other disease-related complications.

The sufferings of the excluded and stigmatised community have intensified manifold during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of this vulnerable community has been literally left behind pandemic response programs as well as deprived of proper information related to hygiene and other health issues during this crisis.

The cross-sectional study was conducted in Dhaka, Moulvibazar, Meherpur, Kushtia, Chuadanga and Thakurgaon between August 2019 and May 2020.

What is leprosy?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae (a relative of TB).

This disease primarily affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surfaces of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes. The first signs of leprosy are patches of skin that look paler than normal or sometimes nodules on the skin.

It is known to occur at all ages ranging from early infancy to very old age.

WHO as well as organizations like TLMI provide confirmation that leprosy is curable and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.

Leprosy in Bangladesh

According to the National Leprosy Elimination Program (NLEP) yearly report for 2019, altogether 2,26,711 leprosy cases were detected in Bangladesh between 1985 and 2019, but after receiving MTD treatment 2,18,538 of them recovered from the disease during this period.

NLEP data show 26,479 people were detected with disabilities caused by leprosy between 1985 and 2015 in the country.

The data also reveal that around 4,000 patients were detected per year in Bangladesh over the last few years, with this figure standing at 3,638 in 2019.

Among newly detected cases, 252 people were found with leprosy disabilities in 2019, NLEP data show.

In India, 127,334 new leprosy cases were detected from 2016 to 2017, and 4.6%of them had Grade 2 disability at the time of diagnosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) shows that a total of 20,8619 new cases of leprosy were reported in 2018 from 127 countries.

According to the United Nations (UN), “The level of serious disability is alarming and completely unnecessary.”

“Too many people with leprosy remain trapped in a never-ending cycle of discrimination and disability,” it said.

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