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"Fellowship runs deeper than having a common language"

Katherine and Hannah are both fourth-year medical students. Last year, as part of their studies into global health, they spent six weeks at TLM’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal. Whilst there, they worked alongside the medical and research staff to carry out research projects.

Katherine: My research was in the field of leprosy ulcers. Leprosy bacteria attacks the nerve cells and if there is a delay in treating the disease, nerve damage can be permanent. Ulcers are a leading cause of disability among leprosy patients and one in five people affected by leprosy will develop ulcers. I reviewed the medical charts of those who had been treated for ulcers, looking to see if there were any social, demographic or disease characteristics which affected the length of hospital stay required. I also carried out some interviews and focus groups to hear about people’s experience of having leprosy ulcers. It became clear that having a leprosy ulcer impacted negatively on every aspect of life for these patients but once they arrived at Anandaban Hospital their experiences were overwhelmingly positive.

Hannah: My research was focused on the impact of gender upon leprosy. Globally, we know that approximately twice as many men as women are diagnosed with leprosy each year, a ratio that exists in Nepal. However, this ratio is not consistent in every country where leprosy is prevalent. In fact, in South Sudan 50 per cent of patients are female, yet in Pakistan as few as 0.5 per cent of patients are female. I reviewed medical charts to look at the incidence and distribution of leprosy and disease differences between men and women. And I interviewed male and female leprosy patients to find out their experiences of diagnosis and treatment. I discovered that amongst the patients at Anandaban there was no difference in disease severity between male and female patients, but factors within the culture and healthcare system will reduce the ability of women to be diagnosed and treated for leprosy in a prompt manner.

Visiting a leprosy village

Part of our research involved talking with patients affected by leprosy on the wards at Anandaban, but we also had the opportunity to visit the village of Khokana, where many individuals with leprosy live. One person who stands out is Kashi, the TLM Nepal staff member who took us to visit Khokana. As a child, Kashi was diagnosed with leprosy and was left ostracised, excluded and vulnerable, with nowhere to go. Eventually, he heard about Anandaban Hospital. There, his leprosy infection was cured, his wounds were dressed, and he was taught how to look after himself. More than that, he heard of a Saviour who wanted a relationship with him.

Many of the residents of Khokana have previously been treated at Anandaban, so The Leprosy Mission staff, and in particular Kashi, are viewed with huge gratitude and respect. For us, Kashi is an incredible ‘full circle’ story of a life transformed by The Leprosy Mission.

Fellowship

Over our six weeks, we loved the many opportunities we had to get to know the staff and patients. A group of staff who live on the hospital site meet weekly to share a meal and have a Bible study. This soon became a fixed part of our schedule.

Although the evening’s discussion was carried out in Nepali, after they had shared their thoughts all faces would turn towards us to share something in English, having no idea about what the previous 30 minutes of Nepali had covered! Through being a part of this group, we came to know for ourselves that fellowship runs deeper than having a common language; these times of sharing and togetherness were always a highlight of our week.

Becoming leprosy ambassadors

Being ‘on the ground’ in Nepal and seeing first-hand the desperate circumstances affecting so many people with leprosy but also seeing the remarkable difference TLM staff are making to their lives has certainly given us a passion for the work of The Leprosy Mission!

Since we’ve come home, we feel that we’ve taken on the role of ‘leprosy ambassadors’  – so many people either don’t know leprosy still exists or believe many of the myths which perpetuate the stigma surrounding it.

We’ve made it our mission to try and address these inaccuracies and make people aware of the importance of the work TLM does. As a supporter of TLMNI, will you do the same?

Find out more about how you can get involved with raising awareness of leprosy and the work of TLM