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Friday, May 20, 2022

Leprosy hospital offers healing and shelter to those who are shunned

HYDERABAD, India. When Amina Begum looks at her hands, tears flow from her eyes.

She is a young woman barely 19, but her arms are twisted by an ancient disease: leprosy.

Perhaps there is no other disease that would bear such a stigma in history. The ancient Egyptians wrote about it; so did the Greeks. In medieval Europe, people with leprosy were expelled from their communities, although the disease, despite all the hysteria, is actually not that contagious.

Currently, leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is easily cured, especially if caught early, but still many of those affected feel like outcasts.

“When I ride the bus,” Amina said in a whisper, “I hide my hands in a shawl.

“Even my own brother,” she added, trying to wipe away her tears, “I am ashamed.

But there is one place where her dignity is redeemed: the Sivananda Rehabilitation Home, which has served as both a hospital and a refuge for six decades in a country that fights leprosy more than anywhere else.

Sivananda sits in the center of the gigantic city of Hyderabad in central India, and everything seems to be moving furiously. Electric scooters pass by. A new subway train rushes past, shaking the ground. The six-lane boulevard outside is filled with commuters rushing to work at Apple, Google, Amazon and Uber.

But to pass through the blue lattice gates of the hospital means to step into another time.

The first thing that catches your eye is the silence as the noise of the boulevard subsides. Then you see the dusty frangipani trees, their fragrant buds just beginning to open.

Inside the hospital, sick people lie on old metal beds, some with chopped off fingers, others with gray spots on their skin.

In a small operating room, arms and legs are carefully restored.

In the workshops behind the wards, the patients’ relatives spin yarn and weave the fabric from which dressings are made.

Sivananda is its own self-sufficient world. They even grow their own papaya, which employees grind and use to treat wounds (papaya pulp contains beneficial enzymes).

Many older patients do not want to leave. Their faces are cut with disease, their noses are flattened, their ears deformed, and they refuse to rejoin the society that has cruelly rejected them.

So Sivananda built a house for them. About 250 people live in a colony of miniature cement-block houses, a row of run-down houses, clothes hanging from wires, and transistor radios faintly playing old Bollywood tunes.

Recently, in the courtyard, a woman was sitting alone and slowly combing her long silvery hair.

The hero of this place, Dr. S. Anant Reddy, spent his entire working life – almost 40 years – in the hospital. He is an experienced reconstructive surgeon, skilled in the delicate operations required to restore people’s hands.

But he also does just about everything that needs to be done at Sivananda, which has 55 employees and an annual budget of less than $350,000, mostly through donations. His treatments are free.

Dr. Reddy, like the heartbeat of Sivananda, constantly animates this place and keeps it alive.

He squints through microscopes, looking for the rod-shaped cells of the Mycobacterium leprosy that cause the disease. He gets “food, medicine, and so on and so forth,” as he puts it.

And he finds time to do what he really enjoys: sitting with patients in quiet, sun-drenched rooms and resting a hand on his shoulder when needed.

As a young medical student, he gravitated toward leprosy. There was something about the diseased beggars he saw on the road, he said, presenting their bodies to passers-by, which used to be a much more common sight, that touched him.

His parents were so embarrassed that they tried to keep his specialty a secret.

But leprosy never bothered him, although his wife carefully examined his body at night, examining every new rash and bump.

“The moment you say the word leper, your thoughts go back to the deformities, the photographs you saw, and everything that our ancestors wrote,” he said. “But it’s not that. It is an easily treatable, detectable and stopable disease.”

Mycobacterium leprae is a cunning microbe. In fact, it is not so pathogenic for many people, that is, it does not cause disease in everyone, but it can remain in the body for 20 years before symptoms appear. The disease affects the nerves and can lead to paralysis of the arms and legs and even blindness.

It is transmitted by close contact, especially by airborne droplets, and doctors and nurses in leper colonies are infected with it, although such cases are rare.

“I can have it,” Dr. Reddy said. “But I never worry. If God wants to give me leprosy, let him give me.”

What worries Dr. Reddy as he contemplates retirement — he is now 69 — is the relentless demand for his services.

The World Health Organization is committed to eradicating the disease, and there are no new cases in many countries.

But India continues to register over half of the world’s 200,000 new cases each year. Health experts say this is due to India’s size, population density and poverty, which has left many people cramped due to poor ventilation and sanitation.

New leprosy patients keep coming to Dr. Reddy’s door. And they are getting younger, like Amina.

One reason: Because the disease is now easily treatable, health care workers stopped routine screening, which in turn led to the further spread of leprosy.

“When I was young, we did house surveys,” Dr. Reddy said.

Early detection of an infection can mean the difference between deformities or not, and it’s easy to spot if you know what you’re looking for. Simply touching a suspicious gray area of ​​skin with a ballpoint pen may be the first step: if the patient does not feel any sensation, this may indicate leprosy.

Unfortunately, in Amina’s case, the first doctors never did, a sign of broader complacency about the disease, Dr. Reddy said. The first doctors considered patches of gray skin around Amina’s waist to be a rash and sent her home with some kind of ointment.

But Amina felt nothing in these spots. Over the next few years, bacteria invaded the nerves in her fingers, resulting in a condition known as clawed hands.

Dr. Reddy operated on her last year. He lifted a tendon from one finger to restore movement in her left hand and performed a skin graft from her forearm to cover the extra skin needed for her new range of motion.

Had she been diagnosed correctly, she would have been given a course of multi-drug therapy, which the pharmaceutical company Novartis provides for free, that would stop the leprosy bacteria before they entered her fingers.

Many of the permanent residents of Sivananda fell ill many years ago, before these medicines were widely available.

One man, Babli, has been living in a concrete hut behind the medical wards for 35 years. His nose and hands bear traces of leprosy.

While disability rights have come a long way in India and the government reserves a small percentage of jobs for people with disabilities, including those with leprosy, there is still severe discrimination.

“They won’t even give us tea,” Babli said, shaking his head in the direction of what lies beyond the walls of Sivananda. “They tell us: “Go away, go away long away away.'”

But not everyone wants to stay. Amina, who has a warm and open personality despite the hardships she has endured, is determined to finish physical therapy and live on the streets. That’s why Dr. Reddy and Sivananda are so important to her.

She has a simple dream and for this she will need her hands.

Do you know what I really want? she said, letting a smile cross her face. “I want to be a tailor.”

Suhasini Raj contributed reporting.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
World Nation News is a digital news portal website. Which provides important and latest breaking news updates to our audience in an effective and efficient ways, like world’s top stories, entertainment, sports, technology and much more news.
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