Eddie Askew OBE
(1927 – 2007)
Artist and writer Eddie Askew served The Leprosy Mission faithfully for 37 years – making giant strides in the care available to leprosy-affected people and the sheer numbers the Mission was able to support.
Eddie and his wife Barbara joined The Leprosy Mission in 1950. A month after they were married they sailed for India and travelled to Purulia Leprosy Home and Hospital. The Askews’ remit was to transform Purulia into a centre of excellence and in 1952 Eddie was asked to take over as Superintendent, a job he did for 13 years. They learned to speak Bengali and taught in the Purulia school for children with leprosy.
It was at Purulia that Eddie met with orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Paul Brand, whose pioneering tendon transfer techniques saw disabled leprosy-affected people able to use their hands and feet again. A former patient at Purulia, Kenneth Kin Thein, went to work with Dr Paul Brand in Vellore in India and on returning to Purulia set up a small physiotherapy department. Eddie then invited Dr Brand to Purulia to demonstrate his techniques and Purulia became the first hospital outside of Vellore to open a reconstructive surgery unit.
During Eddie’s time in Purulia, leprosy patients were treated with dapsone, which proved more effective than any past treatment.
Demand for services was great – greater than the Mission was able to provide. Eddie spoke candidly of the tough decisions that had to be made with regards to who to admit to the hospital. While the old and helpless needed compassionate care for the rest of their lives, the younger people could be treated successfully and discharged. Hospital staff never refused to admit a child, however, even when the wards became overcrowded.
As demand for the hospital’s services continued to grow, a new clinic was opened nearby at Jhalda and another further away at Jeypore. Purulia became a place where technicians, doctors, shoemakers and artificial limb makers would come to train.
In 1965 Eddie, Barbara and their two daughters left Purulia to return to England when Eddie was offered a position at The Leprosy Mission International’s office in London. He was soon travelling to Ethiopia to assess a new project in its capital, Addis Ababa. The group heading up the project included Dr Paul Brand and its purpose was to create a new training centre which went on to become ALERT, the All Africa Leprosy and Rehabilitation Training Centre. Eddie became one of the four founding members of what is now the leading leprosy training centre in Africa.
Eddie became The Leprosy Mission’s International General Secretary in 1974 and proposed a conference for The Leprosy Mission worldwide which took place in Singapore in 1976. It was a vital meeting to discuss policies and programmes.
Eddie said that Wellesley Bailey, founder of The Leprosy Mission, would have reacted with wonder and joy at the expansion of the Mission’s services. Yet he reflected that Wellesley would have asked its staff members to remember the individual and personal needs of every leprosy-affected person.