Reach­ing out to lep­rosy suf­fer­ers

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By DANIELLE STREET

Ataur Rah­man had no idea how badly lep­rosy af­fected his home coun­try of Bangladesh un­til he came face-to­face with the de­bil­i­tat­ing dis­ease.

Mr Rah­man was part of a small del­e­ga­tion that trav­elled long dis­tances to re­mote vil­lages in the coun­try’s Chit­tagong re­gion to ed­u­cate peo­ple about the con­di­tion.

‘‘I’ve never seen any­thing like it,’’ the in­ner city res­i­dent says.

‘‘I’ve had a life of priv­i­lege, so see­ing this hap­pen­ing in my own coun­try, see­ing the cold face of it, was eye­open­ing.’’

Lep­rosy is caused by bac­te­ria that at­tack the nerves in the hands, feet and face leav­ing them numb.

If left un­treated it can af­fect the pe­riph­eral nerves and cause fin­gers and toes to claw in­wards.

The dis­ease can also at­tack the eyes re­sult­ing in in­fec­tions and blind­ness.

Mr Rah­man’s two trav­el­ling com­pan­ions were also Bangladeshi peo­ple liv­ing in New Zealand who were re­cruited by the Bal­moral­based Lep­rosy Mis­sion.

The mis­sion aims to en­gage New Zealand’s eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties with the lep­rosy in their home­lands – a tac­tic that Mr Rah­man says is very ef­fec­tive.

‘‘Up un­til now most of the peo­ple who vis­ited those peo­ple are for­eign­ers, but this time hav­ing three Bangladeshi peo­ple, their own peo­ple, it seemed to open the doors more and they were much more forth­com­ing to share their sto­ries.’’

In Bangladesh there is no wel­fare sys­tem, so the peo­ple in the re­mote re­gions are marginalised and re­ceive lit­tle sup­port ex­cept for that pro­vided by NGOs like the mis­sion, which has a ground team there clean­ing wounds and pro­vid­ing med­i­ca­tion.

Mr Rah­man says one of the big­gest bar­ri­ers to break is the lack of ed­u­ca­tion about the dis­ease in re­mote parts of the coun­try.

‘‘This is where the iso­la­tion hap­pens, be­cause they are ig­no­rant, they don’t know. If they see some­body with spots and marks im­me­di­ately they are sep­a­rated.

‘‘They are lit­er­ally put at the end of the vil­lage in a hut.

‘‘The food ev­ery­thing.’’

It was once be­lieved lep­rosy was highly con­ta­gious, but though it can be trans­mit­ted be­tween peo­ple, about 95 per cent have nat­u­ral im­mu­nity to the dis­ease.

The New Zealand Lep­rosy Mis­sion vis­its third-world coun­tries on mis­sions through­out the year and pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion about the dis­ease, as well as med­i­ca­tion and spe­cialised items like shoes to help aid de­for­mi­ties.

It also gives funds to vil­lages to help peo­ple af­fected by lep­rosy re-es­tab­lish their lives.

Eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties ad­viser Mike Shep­pard says the mis­sion works to sup­ply peo­ple with the tools to gain in­de­pen­dence.

‘‘We’re strong on the pol­icy of giv­ing peo­ple a fish­ing rod in­stead of a fish,’’ he says.



Help­ing hand: Ataur Rah­man with women from the Chit­tagong re­gion in Bangladesh, where he vis­ited vil­lages af­fected by lep­rosy.

Go to auck­land­c­i­ty­har­bour and click on Lat­est Edi­tion to see a video about

the Lep­rosy Mis­sion.

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