Lepra explain the work they do in India and Bangladesh to help the most vulnerable people and what you can do to help.
Right now, in towns and villages across Bangladesh and India, girls and women are hiding the symptoms of leprosy, terrified of what will happen if their families find out they have the disease. When they can no longer hide the marks on their skin or disguise the absence of feeling in their hands or feet, what will happen then? Will they be physically abused by their husbands? Will they be ostracised by their families and friends?
The stigma that still surrounds leprosy is one of the biggest challenges standing in the way of eradicating this curable disease.
Girls and women face a triple jeopardy. Already discriminated against because of their gender, disabilities which can result from leprosy add a further risk of being shunned by their community. Stigma, arising from ignorance and belief in myths and misconceptions, is the third jeopardy.
Kalpana was just 18 and married for only one year when her husband noticed dark spots on her skin. He recognised these as a symptom of leprosy. He closed the door, tied her up and attacked her with a stick, breaking her leg. The beatings continued for months until he banished Kalpana and their five-month-old daughter from the family home forever.
They had no money and nowhere to go and turned to Lepra for help. When the diagnosis of leprosy was confirmed, we made sure that Kalpana started to take multi-drug treatment immediately. We also helped her to fight for financial support. Now completely cured, she is a community volunteer, working with us to share information about leprosy with other women and mixed community groups.
Our staff work with volunteers, government healthcare staff and others to dispel myths surrounding leprosy and other diseases. Last year, we reached 490,000 people in Bangladesh and 665,000 in India through community-based exhibitions, film shows and loud speaker announcements from our health education vans, which can reach remote areas.
More than 42,500 government and community workers and volunteers participated in our training programmes last year. Our school education programmes also contribute to reduced discrimination towards people with leprosy-related disabilities.
We now want to recruit and train an army of 3,000 female volunteers to stamp out the stigma of leprosy and bring women out of the shadows. Training 100 volunteers costs just £2,000. Find out more at lepra.org.uk/women-leprosy.
If you think leprosy is a disease of the past, think again. Around the world, one more person is diagnosed every two minutes – and it’s women who suffer the most. Every day, thousands of women with leprosy face discrimination and domestic abuse. That’s why we need you to act now.
For more information contact Gayle Gover on 01206 216700 or GayleG@lepra.org.uk
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