After she was diagnosed with leprosy last year, Theresia Peni, 25, who comes from a poor village in Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara, felt overshadowed by the stigma that people with leprosy face and feared being excluded from society. Peni recalled the moment last year she first experienced the symptoms of leprosy. Initially, she thought it was a skin disease or allergy. But when she had a checkup at St. Damian Hospital in Lembata, a dedicated hospital for leprosy run by the Catholic Church, the doctor revealed the stark truth. "I cried. I was confused and didn’t believe what the doctor was telling me," she told ucanews.com. With little money to spend, Peni searched for a cure. After months of suffering, she finally found what she was looking for, a herbal recipe made from cooked papaya and horseradish leaves. The Institute of Applied Psychological Services in Kupang, a group of lay Catholics comprising doctors, nurses and university lecturers had developed the recipe. The group, established in 2007, partners with St. Damian Hospital to find cures for leprosy sufferers, such as Peni, using herbal remedies.
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"I took the herbal medicines for ten months. Now I am totally healed," she said, hoping that other sufferers would follow in her footsteps. Recently, Peni was invited to give a testimony at a seminar organized by the institute at the Indonesian Bishops Conference building, Jakarta. Some 400 participants attended the event, including healed patients, priests, sisters, medical doctors, nurses and people of other religions. Peni told ucanews.com that in the beginning she was shaken, she could not accept her situation and feared that the community due to her condition would ostracize her family. "I was ashamed and avoided church activities," she said. After she was healed, she regained her strength and dared to witness that leprosy is not a curse but a moment to surrender to God’s healing power. More-affordable healthcare for sufferers
Antonius Porat, director at the institute, said the aim to increase research on herbal remedies is driven by a concern for patients of all religious persuasions who are burdened psychologically, economically and socially. The institute hopes to expand provision of this cost-effective treatment in Catholic hospitals help leprosy sufferers throughout the country. Porat said that the results speak for themselves. Of 76 people treated at St. Damian Hospital, 33 received the herbal remedy, including Peni. Nineteen were cured. Fourteen quit the treatment because they did not like to use herbal medicine. Patients were routinely treated over a six to 10-month period with a compound applied to their wounds, a mixture of pounded papaya and horseradish leaves with turmeric. They also drank and bathed in the water used to boil the leaves. The hospital also provided spiritual support to patients through prayer at home, in church and other places of worship. However, some medical doctors and local health departments have rejected the method, including Doctor Angela Abidin, chairwoman of the Jakarta Archdiocese Health Commission and former executive director of the Association of Voluntary Health Services in Indonesia, an arm of the Indonesian Catholic Church. Abidin said the herbal medicine must undergo thorough research "so it doesn’t have negative effects on patients." Father Paulus Siswantoko, secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral Care for Migrant People, said the bishops will support the good work of the Catholic lay group because, until now, people with leprosy are among the most marginalized people in society. "All this time, sufferers have only been healed with medicines. But our lay group has proved that a spiritual approach also can heal them," the priest said. Iwin, a Ministry of Health official was more supportive of the institute’s work, however. "The Indonesian government thanks this group because it is helping the government to achieve its goal to eliminate leprosy by 2019", she said. According to the World Health Organization, Indonesia has more than 20,000 sufferers, making it the third most-populous country with leprosy, after India and Brazil.