Churches urged to support leprosy patients in Bangladesh

Ecumenical bodies join hands with a Christian charity to battle the disease
Churches urged to support leprosy patients in Bangladesh

An Italian Catholic PIME missionary nun treats a leprosy patient at Damian House, a church-run hospital in Khulna district of southern Bangladesh. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

A leading international charity fighting leprosy and social stigma attached to the disease has sought support from various churches and church-run organizations to assist leprosy patients in Bangladesh.

The call was made during a seminar organized by the Bangladesh chapter of Leprosy Mission International (TLMI), a UK-based international Christian charity and one of the largest global players in the fight against leprosy globally, in Dhaka on Jan. 23.

Leaders and representatives of 25 churches in Bangladesh including the Catholic Church attended the program and discussed how they can contribute in TLMI’s mission — Leprosy Defeated, Lives Transformed — to be attained by 2030.

The ecumenical gathering aimed at informing church leaders of TLMI’s mission and vision and how churches can participate, said Saloman Sumon Halder, country director of TLMI Bangladesh.

“It was a session for sharing — we wanted to understand what the churches have been doing to battle leprosy and support patients, and also we wanted to inform them what TLMI has been working on,” Halder told UCA News.

“We discussed and explored ways we can work together. Now the churches will decide their course of action and whether we can join hands for the common purpose.”

Despite Bangladesh being a low-prevalence country for leprosy, there is scope for support of leprosy patients and their families regarding treatment, rehabilitation and transformation of lives, he added.

This initiative is “unique and laudable,” said Benedict Alo D’Rozario, president of Caritas Asia, the regional body of Catholic charities, who attended the gathering.

“Jesus healed the lepers and touched them with love, and he did it according to the tradition of the time. After healing them, Jesus sent them to social and religious leaders for confirmation of their healing. So, healing leprosy is a Christ-centered mission that we must carry out,” D’Rozario told UCA News.

TLMI aims to ensure churches can join hands in the fight against leprosy and announced a special day of awareness about the disease and care for patients, he said.

“From the top to the grassroots level, this message should be spread — we can come together and work to battle leprosy. We have our expertise and resources, and now we must think about how best we can share and utilize for better services for leprosy patients,” D’Rozario said.

Leprosy is also known as Hansen's disease after Norwegian scientist Dr. G.H.A. Hansen, who discovered mycobacterium leprae, the causative bacterial agent of the disease, in 1873.

It has long been considered a curse in many parts of the world due to its contagious nature, the extreme level of physical disability it causes and its relatively high fatality rate.

However, leprosy today is a curable disease if detected at an early stage courtesy of multi-drug therapy (MDT).

There were 216,108 new cases registered globally in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

The agency said the prevalence rate was 0.29 per 10,000 people on average, based on 173,358 cases recorded at the end of 2016.

In overpopulated and impoverished Bangladesh, leprosy was considered a plague-like disease for decades. However, initiatives from the government and international health organizations helped the country to become "leprosy free" in 1998, two years before the WHO's target year of 2000.

The world health body officially declares a country free of the disease when the prevalence rate of new cases drops below 1 percent per 10,000 people.

In the case of Bangladesh, the prevalence rate for new cases was still as high as 0.62 percent of the total population as of 2002. Of those who contracted the disease, 6.5 percent developed significant physical disabilities, according to data from the Health Ministry.

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