Safeguarding the future of leprosy care in India, brick by brick
The Leprosy Mission’s hospital in Salur, southern India, is a bustling place. Serving people affected by leprosy and the wider community, patients are always coming and going. But whenever someone comes through the doors seeking treatment, the team of dedicated nurses is always there for them.
Nurses like Sumati, who’s been at Salur for over three decades. “It’s us nurses who spend time with patients, checking their wounds and ulcers, and talking to them when they feel pain”, she says.
Sumati is admired by everyone at the hospital for her compassion for people affected by leprosy. She loves her job and is proud of the difference she makes in people's lives. She’s there with her patients every day, making sure they heal.
Sumati and her colleagues are the unsung heroes of leprosy treatment. Their expertise in leprosy care is unrivalled. Many patients arrive at Salur Hospital having experienced pain and rejection. They know that the nurses and doctors are always there for them, caring for them with kindness. This is truly love for people affected by leprosy in action.
But at Salur, a crisis is looming. And to see why, we need to wind the clock back to the 1990s.
A crisis on the horizon
The 1990s – a time of global change and the hope of a new millennium. And after years of dedicated efforts, leprosy cases had dramatically declined. It was an incredible achievement. But as the disease became less of a public health priority, funding towards leprosy in care in India declined too.
India is home to over half of the world’s leprosy cases - over 75,000 people were diagnosed with the disease in 2021. There is a huge need for specialist leprosy care across the country. But very few nurses and doctors have the expertise to care for those affected.
What’s more, there is still heavy stigma surrounding people affected by leprosy. Even among healthcare professionals, prejudice persists. And in addition, many young nurses can make more money working in different specialisms, at larger government hospitals.
Here in the UK we can certainly appreciate the dedication of nurses caring for their patients in difficult circumstances. It’s a dedication that nurses like Sumati share. But a generation of nurses will be retiring soon, and there is no one to follow them. Without new nurses, the team at Salur won’t be able to give leprosy patients the healthcare they deserve.
Kota has been coming to Salur Hospital for treatment for over a year. It has already become a second home, where the nurses feel like family. Leprosy had damaged her hand; her fingers had become permanently clawed. She found it hard to do even simple tasks, and she needed reconstructive surgery to restore her mobility.
Kota feels a peace at Salur she doesn’t get anywhere else. Here, the nurses don’t just treat her ulcers and do physiotherapy to strengthen her hand. They motivate her and encourage her to keep up with her self-care. “They take care of me very well”, Kota says, “they comfort me every day”.
The nurses at Salur have cared for people like Kota steadfastly for decades. But without new nurses, people affected by leprosy will have nowhere to go to get the specialist treatment they need.
Laying the foundations
The team at Salur have a vision. It’s a vision of a new nursing college that will protect the future of leprosy care in India. In currently disused buildings on the hospital site, a fantastic new training centre will take shape. Here, students will gain desperately needed knowledge and practical experience through the only leprosy-specific nursing course in the country. Where the knowledge of nurses like Sumati is in danger of being lost, it will be safeguarded for years to come.
Many of the students at Salur will be affected by leprosy themselves. These young people want to study and give back to the people who have helped them many times. They have faced so many barriers to achieving their dreams. At Salur, the doors will be open.
It’s an inspiring vision. Will you join with Sumati to make it a reality? You can help raise up new classrooms and restore old ruins, building the future of leprosy care in India brick by brick.
A gift of £58.50 could provide 1,000 bricks to help with the building project. But your gift will go so much further than this. You’ll be standing with nurses like Sumati, as they care for people with kindness and dedication. And you’ll be with people like Kota, helping them to find comfort at Salur, whenever they need it.
Photos © Sabrina Dangol