Children of Bihar
To most of us, childhood is a golden time which we look back on in later life with great pleasure. In many leprosy endemic areas of the world, like the state of Bihar in India, this is however not the case.
LEPRA Health in Action has been working to ensure that leprosy in Bihar is diagnosed and treated early, helping to make childhood a pleasant experience for as many children as possible.
The statistics on new leprosy cases registered from 2002-2007 has dropped significantly by some 22 per cent, but sadly the proportion of new child cases has remained static at 17 per cent. Last year 3,184 children were found to have leprosy in Bihar.
Sunil Kumar is just one of many who might not have been able to look back on their childhood with pleasure had it not been for LEPRA. This 13-year-old boy lives in a village called Rakhiyahi, in the Begusarai district of Bihar state.
Over time Sunil developed sensory loss in both his feet and legs. This led to ulcers, and so his worried parents took him to a government rural medical practitioner for treatment. The practitioner prescribed medication for six months.
Sunil’s condition did not improve however because the doctor had not diagnosed the real cause -- leprosy.
Mrs Fulan Devi, an Accredited Social Health Activist (or ASHA) trained by LEPRA to diagnose the disease, saw Sunil and recognised his symptoms. Mrs Devi referred him to one of our leprosy treatment facilities in a nearby health centre.
Here Sunil was given a skin smear test and was diagnosed with multibacillary leprosy (where a large number of leprosy bacilli are present and are highly contagious). One of the reasons for the misdiagnosis was the absence of visible patches on Sunil’s skin. He only had nodules on his chin and had lost his eyebrows and lashes, which the rural medical practitioner did not recognise as symptoms of leprosy -- fortunately Mrs Devi did, and Sunil is now on the road to recovery.
The skills of LEPRA’s Bihar team in diagnosing complicated forms of leprosy is helping many children. We strive to make the childhood memories of Sunil and many others as happy as possible by raising awareness of leprosy in schools and training rural health practitioners to diagnose and treat the disease.
A childhood without leprosy is certainly something to treasure.
The Leach family name is legendary within LEPRA -- Joan and Rachel have been dedicated supporters and friends for many years.
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