Leprosy infected hand
With support coming from the Leprosy Mission of Nigeria, persons with leprosy at Amanawa Leprosy Settlement in Dange Shuni Local Government Area of Sokoto State are smiling again, Mohammed Aminu writes
"This is one of the greatest moments in our lives since we moved into the Amanawa Leprosy Settlement over 20 years ago. The Leprosy Mission listened to our pleas and provided potable water for us and as a result of this, our children no longer walk long distance to fetch water.”
Malam Shehu Ibrahim, a resident of Amanawa Leprosy Settlement could not hide his joy over the water project provided by the mission for the community.
Ibrahim, like other inhabitants of the settlement, was full of appreciation and gratitude to the mission for coming to their aid by bringing an end to the problems of water scarcity being faced by residents of the community.
The persons affected by leprosy at Amanawa have had to contend with many challenges as a result of their condition, but water scarcity posed a serious challenge over the years.
“We have had problems with water for 20 years and we have cried and cried and cried, but we never had anyone coming to support us. So what the Leprosy Mission has done through the construction of this borehole has once more offered hope that we are not totally forgotten,” said a leper within the colony.
The Amanawa Leprosy Hospital, situated in Dange Shuni Local Government, a few kilometers from the state capital, was established by the missionaries eight decades ago to cater for patients affected by leprosy in the zone, but patients who came to the hospital for treatment almost three decades ago, decided not to go back to their various villages for fear of discrimination, isolation and stigmatisation.
It was against this backdrop that the missionaries then accommodated the leprosy patients and provided a settlement for them. The leprosy patients were also provided with land to carry out their farming activities, while they also engaged in animal husbandry to sustain their families. At the moment, there are over 1000 inhabitants in the settlement.
However, with the increased number of people living in the settlement, the challenges of having access to basic social amenities became a serious issue, especially because of alleged neglect by the state government.
In fact, the inhabitants had been facing serious difficulties in terms of acute water shortage for several years and oftentimes their children trek several kilometers in order to fetch water from another community which further worsens their sanitation and living conditions.
It was in view of the need to alleviate their suffering and provide good drinking water for the leprosy patients, that the Leprosy Mission decided to construct a borehole in the settlement in order to improve their living conditions.
Speaking while unveiling the water project in Amanawa settlement, the Social Economic Development Officer of the Mission, Mr. Steven Okpanachi, said the Mission decided to provide potable water to persons affected by leprosy in Amanawa settlement to ease the suffering and pains they had gone through over the years due to lack of adequate water supply. He stated that the water project was funded by the Sweden Mission Council, describing the initiative as part of efforts of the Mission to improve sanitation and living conditions of people living in the settlement.
"As you are aware, people discriminate against the leprosy patients anytime they go outside the settlement to fetch water. Thus, the essence of the water project is to provide potable water and improve their sanitation. This, we believe will help to reduce the stigma they face outside the colony,"Okpanachi said.
He urged the people of the state to stop discriminating against persons affected by leprosy saying the persons affected by leprosy are normal human beings with ailments that are curable, and therefore should enjoy the support of others in the society without being discriminated against.
He said that the Leprosy Mission was committed to 'a world without leprosy' by working assiduously to change the public's perception of the disease.
According to Okpanashi, the Mission would not relent in its sensitisation campaigns to end the stigmatisation of people living with leprosy and their family members.
"We strongly believe that through awareness campaign, the stigma and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy would be reduced. So I am appealing to the public not to stigmatise and discriminate against persons affected by leprosy since we all have equal rights. I would rather encourage you to join the campaign against stigmatisation and human rights abuse of such persons and their communities," he said.
Okpanachi hinted that the Mission had in the last decade, provided medical assistance and trained several persons affected by leprosy on various vocational skills like production of soap, cream, and detergent amongst others to enable them become self reliant and fend for their families.
He explained that the Mission also provided financial assistance to enable them start a small scale business after they had undergone the vocational programme.
He disclosed that in the last 12 years, the Mission had been offering educational support to children of persons affected by leprosy in the state to enable them have a sense of belonging and concentrate on their studies, stressing that the idea behind the educational support scheme of the Mission was to empower the children of the leprosy patients to acquire education up to tertiary level so that they could be able to assist their parents when they are through with their studies.
In a remark, the District Head of Gagi and Goodwill Ambassador of Leprosy Mission, Alhaji Umar Sani, stated that the provision of water would address the problem of acute water shortage being faced by leprosy patients in the Amanawa settlement. The monarch described the gesture as unprecedented, stressing that the Mission has brought hope to the community with the provision of water.
"As you are aware, water is life and anybody that provides water to a community has given them something they can use to sustain their lives. So I am urging the inhabitants of this settlement to take ownership of this water project and ensure a good maintenance culture,” he advised.
The monarch expressed dismay at the way and manner persons affected by leprosy were being discriminated against by the society and called on the people of the state to stop stigmatising them, stressing that they are normal human beings with an ailment that was curable.
He advised persons affected by the disease to persevere, reminding them of the need to realise that the disease was curable and not a curse from God. Sani commended the Leprosy Mission for the gesture and called on individuals and organisations to come to the aid of the persons affected by leprosy in the state.
He acknowledged the N6,5000 monthly allowance being given to the physically challenged persons in the state and urged the state government to extend same gesture to the persons affected by leprosy through the provision of soft loans to enable them start their own small scale businesses. “I am aware that the Leprosy Mission trained women affected by leprosy on some vocational skills like production of soap, detergent, cream among others. So the state government should support such gesture by providing the leprosy patients with soft loans to enable them start their businesses,” Umar said.
The leader of the Amanawa Leprosy Settlement, Mallam Samaila Mainasara, said the Misssion has wiped off their tears by providing water to the settlement. He noted that the inhabitants of the settlement had been going through difficulties in the past year due to lack of water in the area, adding that the project has brought them succour.
He commended the Mission for the humanitarian gesture and appealed to the state government and other organisations to come to their aid for the sustainability of lives at the settlement.
Leprosy has ravaged humanity for centuries. In the last two decades, over 15 million people worldwide have been cured of leprosy. However, the age-old social stigma associated with leprosy lingers in many societies and remains a major obstacle to early treatment.
In Sokoto, Leprosy patients still face discrimination and stigmatisation by the community where they live. They are not accepted and accorded the respect and regard of their peers as a result of their physical deformities and to a very large extent isolated from their communities.
Experts said early detection and effective treatment for leprosy remains a solution to reduce the impact of the disease on the affected individuals.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that affects the peripheral nerves, eyes, skin, upper respiratory tract and nasal mucosa. The disease widely spread via the respiratory system through nasal droplets and is endemic in rural communities in Sokoto State.
It was not until the introduction of multidrug therapy (MDT) in the early 1980s that the disease could be diagnosed and treated successfully in many states across Nigeria.
And with a friend such as Leprosy Mission in Nigeria, the persons affected by leprosy may have reasons to be happy one more time.