Mr P. Venkat Rao is seventy years old and lives in a leprosy community at Gannavaran, India.
As is so often the case with people affected by leprosy, Mr Rao’s disabilities had made it impossible for him to work and has impacted his ability to access vital healthcare and find nutritional food supplies.
During the pandemic, the situation for those we support looked dire. Thankfully, the flexibility of Lepra’s community health services, such as the mobile footwear units, have fortunately played a key role in helping people affected by leprosy and lymphatic filariasis access emergency food rations, life-saving vaccinations and important medical treatments, which has had a profound impact on the quality of life for those we support through these challenging times.
Mr Rao tells us what his life was like before the mobile unit would visit every six months to assess his podiatric care and provide his custom made footwear.
Life was hard for Mr Rao. In search of shoes to protect his feet, he would get footwear that neither fitted, nor helped him to walk, because that was all that was available to him. Without suitable footwear, he faced great risk of injury and a life of preventable disability.
“If I stepped on a stone or a thorn, I would not feel it. I would get ulcers.”
Years of untreated leprosy means Mr Rao has no sensation in his feet and so he cannot feel pain. Without this sensation, it is impossible to avoid injury which in turn can lead to infections and serious disabilities. Before the mobile unit, he had to travel by foot from his remote village to the referral clinic. Without suitable footwear however, that journey was treacherous and caused serious, permanent damage to his feet.
Lepra’s mobile podiatric unit means that Mr Rao now gets the best and most comfortable shoes made of protective microcellular rubber, fitted by specialist shoe technicians to the exact shape of his feet, with additional support where it is needed.
When the specialist team have set up their workspace and organised their equipment, Mr Rao is carefully examined and is given the best care. The experienced cobbler uses traditional methods to precisely measure his feet, using tried and tested techniques which give the perfect fit, vital to the effectiveness of the footwear. Once examined and measured, the specialists can get to work and Mr Rao can relax. The contact with Lepra’s specialist unit also gives an opportunity to discuss any other support needs that he may have. The person-centred approach is at the core of Lepra’s approach to healthcare.
When asked Mr Rao’s favourite colour, the response is “black”. Mr Rao’s shoe of choice is a sandal and he explains that the air circulation means they are more comfortable when walking. Having a choice in colour and design is important to the wearer, many of whom have faced prejudice because of the disease. Having good quality, attractive shoes, plays an important role in maintaining the dignity of those affected.
“They look good to wear and are well made. They give me the type of shoe I like. It’s a real lifeline.”
Mr Rao can now leave the workshop, new sandals on his feet. And like us all, once his injuries heal and he is comfortable, he can carry on with the rest of his life, confident that Lepra will be back again to look after him in another six months, pandemic or not.
To see the mobile unit in action and to hear Mr Rao himself, please visit: