- Official figures from Leprosy and Tuberculosis control program shows that since 2000, new infections have continued to be registered in Yumbe with 326 cases registered in the district
- A look at the infections across the region includes 2006 were 44, in 2007 (30), in 2008 (33), in 2009 (11), in 2010 (38) and 2011 (17)
- The most commonly accepted fact is that it is transmitted through the sneezes and coughs of untreated patients. Nerve damage meant patients would lose the sensation in their hands and feet
By Warom Felix
West Nile- At first thought it was just a scar or normal skin rashes in 1960. Then it turned into a blotchy red rash that spread from his forehead, heap to his hand.
Born on 10th October 1954, Adam Juma, who is now a health educator had three patches on his forehead, heap and hand. When people saw his skin colour changing reddish, they started neglecting him during meals, play times and classrooms.
“My parents took me to witch doctors where I was given local herbs but it did not work. Then we went into exile and after exile from Sudan in 1988, there was a specialist who came to Barakala health center in Yumbe district and he diagnosed that I had leprosy,” he said.
After the examination was done, the news hardly seemed possible-leprosy? “I broke down and cried. But I had hope and faith that this can be curable one day,” he added. His family, friends and teachers were also stunned by the diagnosis. They were afraid that this man was living with infectious diseases.
At his youthful stage and becoming a leprosy activist, in 1991, he was called for an interview by Ministry of Health and became a health educator.
As the 63 year-old Adam recounts that his fellow children used to ask him: What is that thing on your leg? He then reluctantly says it is just a normal patch but the children would laugh and send him away from the group.
Currently, out of 273 cases of Leprosy recorded in Uganda, 71 cases are from West Nile by last December. The District Health Officer for Arua, Dr Patrick Anguzu, said leprosy is still common in communities because of the porous border with Sudan where there is uncontrolled movement of sick people.
“We still have the scourge of Leprosy that causing deformity on people here. We need rigorous awareness campaign in communities because many of the people with early signs do not seek treatment. Unfortunately, we are now treating 12 patients who are now faced with permanent deformity,” he said.
Probably it may seem more like a biblical-era scourge than a modern-day ailment, but 362 people have been diagnosed of Leprosy in Yumbe district alone since 1992, according to statistics from the Regional TB and Leprosy Program Office.
Three weeks ago, Fr Pius Yobuta, the Parish Priest of Christ the King in Arua town, said during his homily that: “If you move from here (Church) to the town, you find many people with leprosy begging. Do not neglect them, you can offer for them anything that you have like clothes, food and even money. Let us support these people and be with them unlike in Biblical times where they were banished from communities.”
According to World Health Organisation, there were 216,108 new leprosy cases registered globally in 2016 from 145 countries in the six WHO regions. But another woman, who declined to be named, for fear of stigma, was jovial when reached to take her photo from her seat. She may only have two fingers left on her left hand and one shot toe, her handshake is firm.
“I was diagnosed with leprosy when I was seven years, but the way people mistreated me in community was excessive. Nobody could allow greeting, giving me water and food. I was totally isolated and that is why I did not go to school,” she said.
Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that attacks skin, peripheral nerves and mucous membranes. Symptoms can take as long as 20 years to appear. While not highly infectious, it is transmitted via droplets, from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contacts with untreated cases. It is one of the most feared infectious diseases and the stigma surrounding it goes back to Biblical times.
Having lived with the disease for most of her life, she is more than familiar with nicknames given to her like ofua. But, to this day, leprosy remains one of the least understood infectious diseases.
Some are now unable to feel pain, they would repeatedly injure their fingers and toes, the damaged bones would become shorter and shorter, resulting in the hallmark deformed hands and feet leprosy is so feared for.
The 2017/18 situation in numbers
71, total number of Leprosy cases in West Nile
23, number of Leprosy patients in Arua
20, patients in Koboko
12, patients in Moyo
08, patients in Yumbe
08, patients in Zombo