Awareness key to eliminate woes of female leprosy victims

DHAKA, Rahima Khatun (not real name), resident of a

village in Sirajganj district, was diagnosed with leprosy when she was just

eight-year-old. She was cured of the disease as she took treatment timely.

She is not alone. There are many leprosy patients who got cured with timely

treatment, which is available at all the upazila health complexes free of

cost.

Though curable and its test as well as treatment is available free of cost

across the country, leprosy continues to inflict sufferings for us mainly due

to lack of awareness among people.

Though women are found to have been affected less than male, the affected

women are the worst sufferers.

According to National Leprosy Elimination Programme (NLEP) and The Leprosy

Mission International-Bangladesh (TLMI-B), annually on an average 4,000 new

leprosy cases are detected in the country in the recent years.

The disease is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called

Mycobacterium leprae. If left untreated, it can affect the nerves, skin,

eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa), said Dr. Biliom A. Sangma,

senior medical officer of TLMI-B.

Jiptha Boirage, programme support coordinator of TLMI-B, said woman

leprosy patients normally do not come to physicians unless the disease

prevents them from carrying out their household chores. Women are not able to

access medical care as easily or as soon as men due to cultural,

socioeconomic and psychological constraints.

The socio-cultural factors related to gender roles and responsibilities

inhibit women from accessing and controlling resources including decision on

their personal health care and services.

The low status of women, lack of access to information and education about

leprosy, the household chores of women or work load have their own negative

bearing on women affected by leprosy. Therefore, women affected by leprosy do

not give time and proper attention for medical checkup and timely treatment,

observed Jiptha.

If the women affected by leprosy is not treated or delayed to get proper

treatment, she will be exposed to disability. In most cases, the physical

impairment due to the disease provoked the stigmatized attitude and affects

the psychological, economic and social well-being of the victims. The

stigmatized attitude strongly breaks the social bond and results in isolation

and discrimination. Not only for the disabled women in leprosy but also the

women who are treated and cured from the disease do not escape from the

social exclusion due to the deep-rooted misconception of leprosy.

Moreover, a woman affected by leprosy lacks self-esteem to get involved in

different social affairs such as different social gatherings with the other

community members freely.

As far as marriage problem is concerned, the situation of women with

disabilities including women in leprosy cases is much more difficult, as

marriages are mostly arranged.

Stereotyped concepts, prejudices and negative attitude towards disability

are deep-rooted that they greatly influence these arrangements. The marital

opportunities of females with disability are limited.

Dr. Shafiqul Islam, national programme manager of NLEP, said 3,729 people

were affected by leprosy last year. Of them, 1,601 were females. He stressed

on raising awareness on leprosy and its treatment facilities offered by the

government. It will bring benefits to the women victims.

The government in cooperation with NGOs is implementing National Leprosy

Elimination Programme (NLEP).

The parliament had repealed 'Lepers Act 1895' on Nov 24, 2011. With this,

the discriminatory labeling, definition and offensive languages directed at

leprosy affected persons are prohibited. It has paved the way for

establishing human rights of leprosy patients, and ensured their freedom and

their family members to choose where to live.

Different steps have been taken by the government and NGOs to protect

human rights of women victims as well as their family members.

These are: Free medicine and treatment provision; rehabilitation provision;

free education and different livelihood supports; capacity building support;

financial accessibility/microfinance support; awareness raising through

electronic and print media.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)