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The impact of COVID-19 on leprosy

23 September 2020

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As an agency working with the oldest known infectious disease, leprosy, Lepra reacted quickly to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. 

In March 2020 we set in train the purchase of a RealTime PCR machine for testing the most vulnerable for COVID-19 in India.  We followed this with food distribution and ensured that counselling and drug supply for those people affected by leprosy continued.  Indeed, all 550 of our field staff have been working throughout the pandemic, with a continued focus on detection, treatment and follow-up of people affected by leprosy, particularly among the most neglected groups.  A recent study showed that more than half of our beneficiaries have reported struggles in accessing their routine health care.

One such beneficiary was Shiva Kumari, a housewife with three children, from Andhra Pradesh State. Feeling no pain after burning her finger whilst cooking, Shiva went to hospital. There she was diagnosed with leprosy and began a 12 month course of multidrug therapy (MDT).

Despite treatment, the physical effects of leprosy can still linger, and Shiva’s index and little fingers had become misshapen and clawed. Shiva was recommended reconstructive surgery to correct the position of her fingers at our LEPRA Society Referral Centre, with surgery performed a few weeks later.

Shiva has her plaster case examined by a health professional

Days after her return home, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and local lockdown restrictions were put in place.  Without transport, Shiva faced not being able to receive the post-operative care she needed, including having her stitches removed. The consequences of this could have been surgical wound infection, increased healing time and severe scarring.

'I worried a lot about my health condition after the surgery, and almost lost hope about receiving post-operative treatment.  I couldn’t get support from local doctors due to the fear of COVID-19, and only emergency cases were being considered by hospital outpatient services. I went to three hospitals for a check-up and none would treat me.' - Shiva

The Lepra team stepped in and not only arranged transport to the hospital for Shiva where she had her stitches removed, they advised her on a range of rehabilitation exercises in order to keep her fingers moving.

It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock down conditions have led to unforgiving experiences in accessing health care facilities for people affected by leprosy. However, thanks to you, we can be there to support more people like Shiva through this challenging situation. 

Your help has never been more crucial and by working together, our combined efforts can go even further. Thank you for your valuable support, together we will beat leprosy.

Did you know?

Between 2019-2020 Lepra reached 260,893 people through diagnosis, treatment and care, and 328 people affected by leprosy received reconstructive surgery and post-operative care. 


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