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11.02.2009 Feature Article

Social Justice Lepers cry for help from gov't and society

To recover fully from a disease or illness is the desire of all persons. It is always wished that whenever one recovers from a disease, there is the surety that one comes back to his or her normal self. However, the situation is not always so. Leprosy is one of the diseases feared by mankind. In the past people with such diseases were looked down upon, maltreated, and even banished, since it is a communicable disease. This was so, because they had no cure for it until 1940. In Ghana, the situation has not changed much, due to the disease's communicability there is a special home for infected people. Their helplessness make them dependent on government and society to live, at least, decent lives, however they do not always get the needed help.

What is leprosy?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), leprosy is a painful condition, which although curable, can leave victims deformed and crippled, if left untreated for long. Leprosy does not cause flesh to rot and fingers and toes to drop off.

In the past, limbs that have been damaged, because the person cannot feel pain, have sometimes had to be amputated. Now that the disease can be detected early, the need to amputate is rare. Leprosy is one of the oldest recorded diseases.

It is a chronic infectious disease that attacks the nervous system, particularly the nerves of the hands, feet and face. Sufferers feel no pain in these areas, and are thus likely to injure themselves without realising it.

There is no vaccine, generally available, to specifically prevent leprosy. It is considered likely that leprosy is spread from person to person, in respiratory droplets, or in cases of children under one year of age, via the placenta. Leprosy is not highly infectious. People at risk, are generally in close and frequent contact with leprosy patients, or living in countries where the disease is more common. The incubation period is thought to range from nine months to 20 years.

Characteristics
Its main characteristics include sensory nerve damage, that is when the sensory nerves are damaged, they cannot register pain. This leaves the extremities of the hands and feet vulnerable to burns and injuries that can result in the loss of fingers, toes, hands and feet. When the eye is affected, it can lead to blindness, particularly if the person does not know how to prevent injury due to dust or other irritants. Additionally, when the motor nerves are involved, various forms of paralysis can occur, such as 'dropped foot', 'dropped wrist', 'clawed hand', or Lagophthalmos. With autonomic nerve damages, it can cause hair loss, and can affect the ability to sweat, leaving the skin dry and cracked and exposed to secondary infection. Leprosy is common in parts of tropical and subtropical Asia, Africa, Central and South America, some Pacific countries, and in parts of the USA. In Australia, leprosy is now rare. With the introduction of multi-drug therapy, in the early 1980s, the disease is now curable.

Lepers in Ghana
Ghana is a democratic nation; every one has the right to be him or herself, only if is not against the laws of the land. The physically challenged have rights, just like normal people do, however, it is very sad that lepers, due to their disability and how dangerous the disease is, lose some of the rights they have. The disability of these lepers makes them very vulnerable in society. They have no choice, than to depend mostly on charity. Though Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sometimes help them, the government also provides a subsidy for their daily upkeep. This subsidy was always provided until the past three years. According to a report by the Ghana News Agency (GNA), the lepers have not received their daily subsidies since December 2006, after the government announced an increase in their subsidy from 12Gp to 60Gp.

The institutions is not able to provide fully medication and food for the over 12,000 inmates, due to lack of funds. “The government provided the money for a short time, but we have not received any funds from them, since December 2006,” said Senior Prefect Madam Gladys Adobea during a visit to the leprosarium.

According to her, the government, till date, had not given them any subsidy for their survival. She said not long ago, some group of people, claiming to be working for the government, came for their names to be submitted to the government in order to start the payment of the subsidy. Meanwhile, they make good use of the land during the rainy season, by cultivating foodstuffs.

The foodstuff cultivated is shared among themselves for consumption, and the rest sold for income. Moreover, they are also grateful that in spite of government and their families not helping them, NGOs have been supporting them through enormous donations.

Stories of some lepers
Madam Adobea, 77 and from Akwapim, narrating her plight, said that she had been in the leprosarium for about 50 years. She was affected by the disease when she was 27 years old, she recollected that she was the only one with the disease in her family; she was then taken to Accra for treatment by her grandmother. As far as she could remember, the leprosarium was built by the colonial masters, but has been maintained by past governments.

She stated that the leprosarium, which has about 33 inmates, has its entire medical bill on the government. With the recent emergence of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), they take their card with them whenever they visit the hospital. According to her, they would love to go back home, since they are always welcomed by the older ones. However, they don't have the desire to, since the younger ones see them to be rather strange, so treat them with indifference.

For Madam Adjoa Ayaw, 79 also from Akwapim Amanokrom, has been at the leprosarium for almost 58 years. According to her, she was infected when she was only 6 years old, and as far as she could remember, she was the first and only one with that disease in the family. She does not know her roots, since her grandmother who sent her to the leprosarium, died early. She was fortunate to have children, who have given them grandchildren. These grandchildren go and help her with her chores after school.

According to her, the children help her a lot in her daily upkeep apart from that the leprosarium is engaged in the soap-making and mat-weaving vocation. She mentioned that, at first there was an extreme dislike by people in purchasing what had been made by them, so they were not getting markets for their products. However, the situation has changed a little, as people try to buy their products to give them a source of income.

Coincidentally, both Madam Adjoa Ayaw and Madam Gladys Adobea made reference to the immense help Father Campbell, Head of leprosarium in Ghana had given them. According to both of them, he always speaks on their behalf, and even seeks help for them. He takes them to church occasionally at Tema Community 2. Father Campbell visits them regularly, and is always of pleading with the government to start giving them back their subsidy.

Conclusion
Being a leper does not mean everything is lost. There will be a deformity, but one ought to bear in mind that they still have their God-given potentials in them. It is the duty of society, as well as the government, to give a helping hand, in order for them to exhibit what they have in them to world.

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2009

This author has authored 68 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: TheChronicle

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