A tribal woman spent 15 years exiled from her village after suffering from Leprosy with deformities. Association for Leprosy Education, rehabilitation and Treatment (ALERT-INDIA) played a pivotal role in her re-integration into village society.
Dr. Revati Joshi, Medical Officer (MO) of Bilgaon Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Nandurbar, a tribal district of Maharashtra had updated herself at ALERT-INDIA's hands-on CME at the Leprosy Referral Center (LRC). Equipped with this training, she diagnosed Mr. Vitthal Pawar with Multi Bacillary (MB) type of Leprosy, which is the infectious form.
ALERT-INDIA is a 34 year old NGO in the field of Leprosy, TB and AIDS control as well as health promotion among women and children. Their team visited the village for follow-up with the Government worker, where Vitthal's father, Mr. Pandurang Pawar was also diagnosed with MB Leprosy. Both father and son were treated at this early stage and successfully cured before the deformities could appear.
Inquiries by the team revealed that Vitthal's sister, Ramma had previously been exiled from the village. She was suffering from leprosy with deformities. She needlessly suffered a divorce due to the disease and subsequently was ostracised by the villagers and exiled to the hills with her father, where she had lived for 15 lonely years.
The team decided to call her to the village and were met with furious resistance from the villagers. They even barred the ALERT-INDIA team from visiting Ramma at her location. The team did not hesitate to stand up for Ramma's right to medical treatment and traced her to the place in the hills where she lived. Ramma, used to being shunned, covered her face in shame when the team arrived.
This is the type of patient who is in dire need of assistance and a champion for their rights to be secured. Leprosy is a disease historically synonymous with isolation and superstition which allow it to linger in our cities and villages. This bacterial disease is in fact one of the least communicable and has an established and effective treatment. In the absence of a vaccine, the path to Leprosy control is through early detection and prompt treatment, alongside the rehabilitation of patients with deformities. The stigma wrongly attached to it leads to patients being hidden away and therefore pockets of the bacteria are able to flourish amid our malnourished and poor people.
ALERT-INDIA attempts to sustain quality care and services to all leprosy affected persons through Leprosy Referral Centers (LRCs). It serves as a multi-service referral unit for the leprosy affected persons who are referred by the General Health Care (GHC) system. Special focus is set on counselling patients for self care and for increasing the compliance to prevent new disability from occurring.
ALERT-INDIA conducts regular exhibitions, slide shows, awareness campaigns among different section of the society to dispel misconceptions associated with leprosy. Special education programs are organised for students and teachers who can carry forward the awareness. Special drives are organized to detect new cases in N, S and T wards of Mumbai and 6 townships and 40 villages around Navi Mumbai and in 21 wards of Mumbai through partner Organizations. Selective Special Drives were also conducted through 66 NGO partners in 8698 villages in 12 districts of Maharashtra and 1 district in Chhattisgarh States. School surveys are also conducted.
Mr. Antony Sami, CEO, ALERT-INDIA says, "A crucial aim of ALERT-INDIA is to help patients to find their place in the family and in the community and become contributing members of the society." Ramma was helped to obtain a pension through a Government scheme available for deformed patients. Such an acknowledgement and economic support contributed to her renewed acceptance by her family, and eventually, her village.