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Nuns Offer Care And Shelter To TB Patients And Homeless


April 28 2008

After six months of tuberculosis treatment in a hospital, Gulshan Barkat took up Missionaries of Charity (MC) nuns´ invitation to live with them and found a warmer welcome.

Barkat told UCA News in late March that after six months in the hospital, which was set up for leprosy patients but also offers a free government TB-treatment program, a visiting nun asked her to come to live with them.

"Now I have many friends," the 19-year-old girl said in response to queries another girl relayed by speaking in her ear.

Barkat is one of the seven girls and young women with tuberculosis who stay at Gosh-e-Aman (home of peace), which five MC nuns run in Rawalpindi, neighboring Islamabad. Six of the patients are Christians and the seventh is a Muslim girl whose mother and sister live here too.

Situated in a residential area, a few meters from Holy Family Hospital, Gosh-e-Aman has been providing temporary shelter to women and girls since 1997. The nine current residents of the building, situated behind the nun´s rooms in their compound, range in age from 2 to 35.

"We collected them during our regular morning visits to the slums which fall in the jurisdiction of Catholic Church Parish" (as the parish is called), said Sister M. Maria Carmo, who has been working at the center since 1998. The nun, who comes from Macau, arrived in Pakistan in 1992.

After visiting the slum areas, the nuns´ morning routine includes taking patients to either Holy Family Hospital or the Leprosy Hospital, run by German Lutheran sisters, in the Gosh-e-Aman ambulance. Both of these hospitals offer free TB treatment through the government program.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Pakistan ranks sixth in the world among countries with the highest incidence of TB. According to WHO and media reports, about 60,000 people die of the disease each year in the country, where an estimated 1.6 million people have the disease in a population of 160 million. More than a quarter-of-a-million new cases are registered annually.

This year´s World TB Day, observed around the globe on March 24, had the theme: I am stopping TB.

The MC nuns admit that ensuring the TB patients take their medicine regularly is a major challenge. Failure to follow the full eight-month course can result in a relapse.

"We have to struggle to feed them the medicine," Sister Carmo said. "Some do not swallow and throw it away after escaping the attention of the attending nun."

Sister Carmo told UCA News on April 18 that in ordinary cases, patients leave after eight or nine months, hopefully cured. Some, however, return due to "poor living conditions including smoke from hearths, nearby dirty water ponds, and cold, moist and dark rooms," which can lead to re-infection Persistent infection can cause hearing loss or even nervous breakdowns, she said.

Kaniz Sharif, deaf and divorced, is an example. "After I got sick, my husband left me, and I had nowhere to go," the 35-year-old woman told UCA News, as a friend loudly repeated questions into her hearing aid. She helps the nuns in the kitchen and with other menial work.

The home also shelters a Muslim family of a mother and her two children. The 7-year-old daughter suffers from TB, and inhaling fireside smoke further damaged her lungs, the nuns explained.

One problem the residents of Gosh-e-Aman often face, according to the nuns, is homesickness, since girls and young women are usually kept inside their home and have little sense of the outside world.

The nuns also point out that recovery from tuberculosis is not a sure thing. In just over a decade since they set up the center, three patients have died.