Gomes Ruas Natábua moves like someone a lot younger than his 70 years as he stacks the new grass that he has cut and dried to re-thatch the roof of his modest house before the start of the rainy season. When he is not busy with household maintenance, Gomes works on his farm on the outskirts of Mutogole.
"Somewhere deep in my heart I knew it was leprosy"
He was diagnosed with leprosy in 2012 or 2013. “I don’t remember the exact date,” he says looking down at his arms. “At some point I noticed rough, dry patches of skin appearing all over my body and somewhere deep in my heart I knew it was leprosy. I was so scared. I knew that this disease was dangerous as my uncle had it a long time ago; he was very sick and eventually died.”
Determined not to end up like his uncle, Gomes went to the local health centre in Naburi to check if his suspicions were right. “They confirmed I had leprosy and gave me some medicine. Once I started taking it, the skin patches seemed to clear up very quickly. The only pain I have now is the memory of catching this disease.”
Catching his infection in the early stages, Gomes considers himself one of the lucky ones, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the nerve damage and potential disabilities. Many affected by leprosy are left without any feeling in their hands or feet and they may not feel any pain if they are cut, burned or otherwise injured. Luckily Gomes has no visible signs that he ever had leprosy.
He does however attend one of our self-care groups in the area. Not only do they provide demonstrations on how to properly care for the affected parts of the body, but the group also provides a safe place in which to discuss personal challenges.
Gomes is an active member of the self-care group that meets on a weekly basis under the shade of the big tree next to his house. “I think it is important to show other people that it is possible to cure this disease. I like to use myself as an example of this, I tell them, ‘Look at me, I’m cured, together we can get rid of this disease.’ I think this gives them hope.”
Gomes also stresses the importance of spreading the word in the community. “Everyone should know what to do or who to contact if they fall sick. We tell everyone that if they notice any patches of dry skin anywhere on their body, they should go to the health centre straight away to get them checked.”
Together with NLR we are providing technical support to the Central Leprosy Programme of the Government of Mozambique in Zambezia Province. We also train and support the self-care groups in the area.