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Nun gives new hope to leprosy patients

Remote sufferers benefit from awareness and treatment program

Villagers in Acre 5 making a vegetable garden together in a leprosy house Villagers in Acre 5 making a vegetable garden together in a leprosy house
  • ucanews.com reporter, Chilaw
  • Sri Lanka
  • March 3, 2011
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Leprosy sufferers living in self-imposed exile in a remote village in Sri Lanka’s Chilaw diocese are now living with renewed hope thanks to an awareness and treatment program initiated by a Catholic nun.

Sister Wilma Costha recently led a team of doctors to Accara Paha (Acre 5), a village around 130 kilometers northwest of Colombo, for the program after learning of the plight of villagers when she helped build a pre-school there.

It was a rice-farming community left to its own devices because several family members were suffering from leprosy, Sister Wilma said.

Although only 18 people had the disease, the families were considered outcasts too because villagers in surrounding communities feared they would also contract the disease and pass it on to them, she added.

I just felt I had to do something for them, so I contacted the authorities, she continued.

The result was a team of doctors travelling to the village to offer help.

“Due to the village’s remote location government officials neglected to pay much attention to their plight. Sister Wilma presented a challenge for us” said Dr. Kaman Fernandopulle, a skin disease specialist, who volunteered to assist the nun by organizing the program in association with the Ministry of Health.

On arrival the team treated the leprosy sufferers, conducted screening tests on the other villagers and also invited people from other villages to attend a slide show which provided them with information on the disease; how it can be treated and avoided; and to dispel misconceptions surrounding it.

The team also promised to send a regular supply of medicines to help with the treatment.

Sister Wilma says she is also planning to contact SUROL (Society for Uplift and Rehabilitation of Leprosy patients) in the Colombo, for further support.

The villagers said the program had given them hope of living a normal life again.

Mudiyanselage Kusumawathi, 42, was diagnosed with leprosy nine years ago.

“Because of the social stigma, my family and I came to live here to be out of sight,” she said. Because we were reluctant to travel long distances, we didn’t get any treatment until now she said.

J. Florin Matilda said the other villagers felt the same way.

“We just refused to attend monthly clinics in the cities, so this program has given us a big boost,” she said.

According to official figures, some 2,000 new leprosy cases are diagnosed every year in Sri Lanka.  Almost 10 percent of patients leave it too late in seeking treatment and sustain permanent, incurable nerve damage.

SR13487.1643
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