GP returns to Bangladesh leprosy hospital - as volunteer

A doctor, who treated leprosy patients in the Indian Sub-Continent for more than two decade before returning to the UK in 2007, is now a volunteer advisor in Bangladesh.

Dr Ruth Butlin had to cut short her work when her newly-widowed father Cyril Butlin needed support at his home in Berwick .  Until his death in 2012 she worked part time as a GP in Alfriston and as a locum at Burrswood Christian hospital in Kent-before retiring from the NHS in 2013.

Soon afterwards she returned to Bangladesh to help train local doctors to detect and manage leprosy in patients and to continue supervising a research project that she started 10 years ago – assessing  the impact of a shorter course of treatment for leprosy.

Now a full time volunteer with The Leprosy Mission England and Wales (TLMEW), Dr Butlin is a medical advisor at the Danish Bangladesh Leprosy Mission Hospital in Nilphamari where those affected by the oldest known disease is treated.

Dr Butlin said: “When my father died, I could have done more voluntary work in the UK. But I thought others could do that if I did not, whereas not many people had leprosy expertise to share.
“Most of the Leprosy Mission’s experienced doctors are overloaded with work and administration responsibilities , so have little time to teach and train the next generation of medical staff.  As a volunteer I would have no administration responsibilities to distract me.”

Leprosy is most common in places of poverty where overcrowding, poor hygiene  and mal nutrition make people more susceptible to infection.

It can cause nerve damage and, if left untreated, lead to loss of sensation in the hands and feet which can result in progressive disability and even the amputation of limbs.

Leprosy is easily curable with multidrug therapy but patients often fail to seek treatment until it is too late, either because they do not know the significance of the early symptoms or for fear of being stigmatised and shunned by society.

There are around 3 million people worldwide disabled as a result of the late treatment of leprosy.
Managing complications that arise as a result of leprosy, attracting and retaining new medical staff, and assisting field staff who are not doctors by are experienced with leprosy to manage complicated cases in community clinics are among Dr Butlin’s regular challenges.

Despite dedicating more than 25 years to TLMEW supported hospitals in India, Nepal and Bangladesh treating society’s most marginalised people, Dr Butlin is determined to continue her work “while able”.

She said:  “For a doctor there is nothing more rewarding than seeing patients get better.
 “To see someone who came in with a nasty chronic ulcer going home with a small, neat scar and no further deformity of foot or hand is very special.

“They come in feeling awful, frightened about what is going to happen to them and usually go home knowing that they can be cured.”

In 2014 there were 213,899 new cases of leprosy diagnosed world-wide, 3,140 of them were in Bangladesh.

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