Monday, September 25, 2017

Leprosy patients suffer months with no medical care

After nine months without medical care, the posting of a single doctor to a “leprosy village” in Yangon is only a small consolation for its nearly 200 residents.

A woman living with leprosy cuddles a cat in Mayanchaung village, Hlegu township. Photo: AFPA woman living with leprosy cuddles a cat in Mayanchaung village, Hlegu township. Photo: AFP

For months, the villagers depended on donors to provide medicine and on health assistants or volunteers to administer multi-drug therapy (MDT), a combination of three antibiotics that cures leprosy. Patients living with severe permanent complications of leprosy live in a shelter. The shelter administrator can refer patients to the district hospital in Hlegu township, but can offer no further treatment as he has no medical training.

“The government could not send doctors immediately to the shelter, so they requested military doctors to volunteer to care for the patients,” said U Hla Htay, the shelter administrator.

Last month, a doctor was finally assigned to help the ailing residents, but much more help is needed.

In Mayanchaung village in Hlegu township, since 1989 leprosy patients have found a safe haven from social persecution for the crippling and disfiguring disease. Many of them are disabled or elderly and in need of medical care for a range of irreversible physical and neurological complications as well as additional diseases like diabetes.

In the Mayanchaung Welfare Centre over 100 patients are under care and another 70 live in the village with their families. While leprosy, a bacterial disease, is not contagious by touch and is curable by medicine, disfigurements and the social stigma remain.

“One doctor is not enough for all the patients in this shelter because patients need care for their eyes, teeth and other diseases, because they are very old,” said U Hla Htay. The village now has one doctor, one nurse and one medical assistant.

In Pictures: Leprosy patients recover but face social stigma

New leprosy patients, sometimes together with their relatives, arrive at the shelter every year. Last year, 26 new patients arrived, but some went back to their village after being cured, according to U Hla Htay.

Dr Okae Soe, a medical officer of the National Leprosy Control Programme, said that 3000 new leprosy patients are discovered in Myanmar every year and that 300 or 400 patients are disabled. “They are found in Yangon, Mandalay, Sagaing, Bago and Ayeyarwady regions, and Shan State,” he said yesterday, World Leprosy day.

The National Leprosy Control Programme gives free medical treatment, holds awareness campaigns and finds new cases.

A target was set in July 2013 at the International Leprosy Summit of less than one case per million by the year 2020 and a World Health Organization strategy focuses on zero disability among new child cases by the same year. But Myanmar is struggling with the aim.

“This target is very difficult to reach. One of our challenges in the National Leprosy Control Programme is that patients think the disease disappeared when they feel better but then it comes back again later. Also, medical staff often don’t know how to identify the disease or have forgetten how to treat it due to the assumption that it has been eradicated,” said Dr Okae Soe.