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NI medical student visits TLM hospital

"People affected by leprosy welcomed us into their homes"

Kerry took a break from her medical degree to study a Masters in Global Health. In May 2018 she spent a month at The Leprosy Mission Hospital in Naini, India, where she carried out a research project for her thesis. Here she explains what impacted her most about her visit

My research

I looked at complications of leprosy called type 1 and type 2 leprosy reactions and neuritis. These occur when inflammation of skin lesions and nerves result in pain, or a loss of function or feeling in patients’ hands, feet and other body parts. If not diagnosed and treated quickly this can cause severe irreversible disability and predispose patients to injuries and ulcers.

My aim was to find out the incidence of these complications at The Leprosy Mission Hospital in Naini, India, and to identify groups of patients who are at a higher risk of developing leprosy reactions and neuritis. My main finding was that patients with more extensive disease when first diagnosed are more likely to develop leprosy reactions and neuritis at some stage during their treatment or after they have been cured of leprosy.

Life at the hospital

I spent most of my time collecting data from medical records on the computer, although I took any opportunity I could to visit each department in the hospital to learn more about leprosy first-hand and to see the workings of the hospital. Each day began with devotions in the chapel, where staff gathered to praise God and hear from God’s word. I tried my best to sing in phonetic Hindi, although often did not understand much of what it meant! It was during these times that I was reminded of God as creator, healer, sustainer and redeemer. He has been and always will be central to the work at the hospital as many patients have had the opportunity to hear about God for the first time.

A highlight was spending a day in theatre with Dr Das, observing reconstructive surgery for patients who have claw hands and foot drop. This varied greatly from my experiences in theatre back home as a medical student – not least because there was worship music playing in the background and the staff paused for a word of prayer at the start of each operation. I was truly amazed by the impact this surgery had on the patients’ quality of life by reducing the visibility of their disability and improving the function in their hands and feet. For some this meant they could return to work or find a new job to support themselves and their families.

Exploring the community

Aside from my research project, I had a fantastic time exploring the area and meeting some of the local people. A group of American students and I visited a leprosy colony in Allahabad – I was shocked that these colonies are still common in parts of India. It was humbling to see the hospitality of the people affected by leprosy, as they welcomed us into their homes and shared about the challenges they face. Through the Champions for Change programme (our 2018 World Leprosy Sunday campaign), TLM staff have been training and equipping members of the community to take a stand for their rights.

Back home

Since coming home, I have become a Leprosy Mission volunteer and have had the opportunity to share about my experience in India. I have realised the need to educate my peers, many of whom are unaware that leprosy still exists in the 21st century. Visiting a hospital with a Christian ethos has encouraged me to treat patients with love, compassion and dignity in the way that Jesus treated the people he met.

I would encourage anyone to support The Leprosy Mission in its vital work of loving, treating and educating people as it seeks to put an end to this debilitating disease.

Find out more about how you can get involved in supporting TLM