Awareness key to eliminate woes of female leprosy victims

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DHAKA, Aug 23, 2019 (BSS)- 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.

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