Leper colony still isolated

While the stigma is not as bad as in earlier years, cured patients, and those still suffering from leprosy, have very little to look forward to.

08 July 2019 | Health

Some 50 kilometres east of Rundu, at Mashare village, lives Namibia's leper colony, with about 74 people registered as having the disease.

Leprosy, dating back to the biblical times, is a contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes and nerves, causing discolouration and lumps on the skin, and in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.

Last week Namibian Sun visited the community at Mashare and caught up Ester Magano Alupe (70). Alupe was diagnosed with leprosy in 1975.

Although now fully cured, the disease deformed her hands and feet.

Alupe is originally from Onyaanya village in the Oshikoto Region however she ended up in Mashare as it had a leprosarium, a hospital built exclusively to treat and quarantine leprosy sufferers.

The leprosarium was closed in the 1980s during the liberation struggle when South African troops decided to turn the facility into an army base camp.

At the time, patients were forced to return to their respective villages however Alupe refused to return home in fear of the stigma she would face and she opted to settle in Mashare.

She lives with her husband, Erickson Uusiku (83), grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Alupe has been cured of leprosy and has not transmitted the disease to her family.

Alupe, who is on a committee representing the leprosy sufferers in the community told Namibian Sun that the situation is bad in as far as support towards those who have been cured of leprosy and those who are still under treatment.

Alupe said that a number of people who were accommodated at the leprosarium together with her, died because of neglect.

“People living with leprosy are suffering in Mashare,” Alupe said.

“The suffering worsened this year because of the drought as those who used to sympathise with us and give us some of their harvest are also affected and have nothing to give. Now all we do is wait for hand-outs when a Samaritan donates food to the councillor's office.”

Last month Omaru Fishing as part of their corporate social responsibility programme, donated boxes of canned fish to the Mashare constituency that was donated to the leprosy sufferers.

“Some of us are lucky to have family around who accepted us, but there were those who were neglected and left to die. They suffered blindness, deformities which limited their movement and their ability to help themselves and they eventually passed on,” she said.

Alupe also spoke on the treatment they receive at health facilities saying that they do not get special treatment as it was during the days of the leprosarium.

She said that they are only given Panado tablets when they visit health centres, something she says leads to the worsening of the disease.

She however acknowledged that the stigmatisation of people living with leprosy is not as bad as it was in the past, saying that people are starting to accept them.

“Back then it was difficult to interact with those not suffering from the disease but now things have changed. We are able to sit in meetings and we are invited to platforms to tell our stories,” Alupe said.

Attempts to get comment from the director of health for the Kavango regions, Timea Ngwira, proved futile at the time of going to print.

However, when contacted for comment, special advisor on health in the vice-president's office, Dr Bernard Haufiku, said there is no need to stigmatise against people with leprosy.

Making reference to his ministerial visit last year to Mashare, Haufiku said that he learnt that the majority of the people were cured of the leprosy disease.

He added that the deformities of the people is what leads to the stigmatisation.

This should not be the case as one can shake a cured leper's hand or eat with them.

“I had a specific ministerial visit to Mashare last year and my finding was that people who suffered from leprosy are now no longer living in camp-like conditions. They are in the community as most of them have been cured from the disease,” Haufiku said.

“The physical disfigurement makes people assume the person is still contagious while the person is cured. There is no need to propagate stigma, no need to fear those people, you can shake their hands and you can eat with them.”

Haufiku stressed that once the person is placed on treatment, they normally become non-infectious.

KENYA KAMBOWE

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