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A step forward for Lepra A step forward for Lepra

A Step Forward for Lepra

20 November 2023

For Lepra, ‘Giving Tuesday’ has become known as Giving ‘Shoesday’ where we celebrate our achievements in protective footwear and its positive impact on the lives of people living with Leprosy.

The nerve damage caused by leprosy leaves people vulnerable to cuts, burns, ulcers, and injuries that can potentially leave people with severe damage to fingers, toes, and feet. Lepra has a long history of providing protective footwear that not only plays a vital role in preventing disability but allows people to live a life without prejudice and discrimination.

State Co-ordinator Rajni Kant Singh has worked for Lepra India for over 30 years. He spoke to us about how he established the very first mobile footwear unit, what it means to the community, and the importance of innovation in design.

“When someone has leprosy, there are many potential risks associated with putting pressure on the feet: blisters forming converting into ulcers and complications leading to amputations.”

Recognising the difficulties that leprosy affected people from rural districts face accessing support, Rajni sought to alleviate this issue:

“I read that there was a mobile unit for diabetic patients in China, so I thought why not start one for footwear in Bihar.”

Thanks to funding from Pavers and support from Lepra UK, Rajni was able to see his idea come to fruition in 2014.

The van, equipped with cooking facilities, enables staff to travel to the 23 districts of Bihar, making and delivering a pair of footwear to each recipient every six months.

During his time at Lepra, Rajni has seen many developments in footwear production.

“When I joined Lepra in 1994, there was just one type of sandal with a sole made from car tyres and the design was only available in black.

Newer designs have MCR soles which are very spongy and work as shock absorbers, so weight is distributed to prevent formation of ulcers and worsening of existing ulcers. The sandals now have adjustable Velcro straps enabling an improved fit and are available in a range of colours.”

Although footwear’s primary function is to prevent the formation and worsening of ulcers and injuries, the benefits go way beyond that. When only one type of footwear was available, it was easy for people with leprosy to be identified and face prejudice and discrimination. Advances in footwear design mean that styles now mirror everyday shoes helping people with leprosy feel accepted within the community. Protective footwear helps people to retain employment and their livelihood, to access education and healthcare and to maintain family life and friendships.

“People are always asking for something different which is why we work to meet their needs. We can’t just stop the innovation otherwise people may no longer wish to wear the shoes which could lead to many problems.

Next, we produced slippers with Lycra that can stretch and hold the feet and prevent it from slipping inside. In 2022 we produced footwear that looks like a sports shoe which people love for walking and jogging.”

Every two years, Lepra India runs a footwear satisfaction survey, considering size, model, colour, fitting to the foot and durability.

“We look at the results and our shoe technicians modify the footwear before we introduce a new model. So, it’s not just one model produced, and you just keep quiet, you always must do something new. If I go to the market to buy a new suit then I have a variety of suits to select from, why shouldn’t people affected by leprosy be able to do the same with footwear.”

Rajni (second left) with Lepra CEO Jimmy Innes and Lepra staff

Giving Tuesday (Giving ‘Shoesday’) takes place on 28th November 2023.

Please help us to reach more people affected by leprosy and continue to make advancements in footwear enabling people to live with comfort and dignity.

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