Reaching out to leprosy sufferers
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 news.co.nz and click on Latest Edition to see a video about
the Leprosy Mission.