DHAKA, June 8, 2020 (BSS)- It was like a thunderbolt that just hit her head when Firoza Begum was detected as a leprosy patient in 2006, as there was a prejudice in her locality that the disease is a curse coming from Allah (God).
“Nobody accepted me (in the past) as I was affected with leprosy. I was isolated in my village. I cannot forget the plight I suffered that time. Even, my family was broken as I was left by my husband,” he told BSS on the sidelines of a conference in Dhaka.
“I was got married in 2006 and a few days later, I was detected as a leprosy patient. And then, members of my husband family started ignoring me. Even, they did not talk to me. And, one day in 2007, my husband divorced me and sent me back to my father’s home,” said Firoza, hailing from Bogura district.
After returning home, she started treatment with support from a local NGO and she finally got recovery from the Hansen disease. But, as a result of the disease, she could not avoid disability.
Though there is a stigma about the leprosy in her society, Firoza who lives with disability has started a normal life. “Fighting stigma for a leprosy patient is a hard task in our society and leading a normal life is a challenging task too,” she added.
“Now my mother and I prepare mats and sell those in a local market. And this is our livelihood option but I never bow down to the stigma I faced,” Firoza said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced the ‘Zero Leprosy Initiative’ to eliminate the Hansen disease from the country by 2030, said Dr David Pahan, Country Director of Lepra Bangladesh.
He said bringing leprosy patients into the mainstream of the society is a big for the country as there is a negative perception about leprosy.
Although the Zero Leprosy Initiative was announced, formulation of polices and action plans to eliminate leprosy is also a challenging task coming up, he added.
Dr Pahan, who has been working on leprosy elimination since 1996, said leprosy patients must raise their voice together so that the authorities concerned take proper steps to bring them into the mainstream of the society.
Bangladesh is still a high burden leprosy country. The registered prevalence of leprosy was 0.7 percent, 0.27 percent and 0.2 percent in 2000, 2010 and 2016 respectively, and stood at 0.19 per 10,000 population in 2018, according to official data.
The grade 2 disability rate among the newly detected cases was 7.15 percent, 11.52 percent and 9.7 percent in 2000, 2010 and 2016 respectively, which reduced to 7.9 percent in 2018. The rate of child patients among the newly detected cases was 15.3 percent in 2000, while it reduced to 5.9 percent in 2018.
The data revealed that about 4,000 patients were detected per year in the country over the last few years, with this figure standing at 3,729 in 2018. Among the newly detected cases about 41 percent are MB patients.
Sonia Prajapoti of HEED Bangladesh, a local NGO working on leprosy control, said leprosy patients should be brought into the mainstream of the society by increasing their social status, providing proper healthcare and creating working opportunities for them.