St Francis Leprosy Guild reports on the devastating effects of Covid-19 at St Anthony's Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre, in Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, India.
India is being savaged by the Covid-19 Corona virus. Cases are escalating faster than anywhere else in the world. In the past 24 hours, more than 4,000 people have died and over 500,000 new cases have been reported. Hospitals are overwhelmed and have run out of oxygen. People are dying without receiving the treatment they needed. Covid-19 has hit India with a ferocity not seen before.
Staff at St Anthony's Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre are only too aware of the effect that Covid-19 might have on the health of people affected by leprosy and all who live in the community.
"I am so sorry to let you know about the Corona tsunami we are experiencing," said Father Innaiah Govindu, Superintendent at St Anthony's, his voice filled with anguish. "The outbreak of the virus has spread everywhere and is causing enormous destruction to human lives. Day by day the situation is getting out of control and mass deaths are taking place due to lack of medical aid, oxygen, beds in the hospitals. We can hear people groaning and patients gasping for breath in and outside of hospitals. Patients are thronging, but the situation is helpless. Life has been paralysed everywhere."
"Our leprosy community residents, too, are affected with Covid-19. I have kept them under home quarantine and treating them as best we can," said Fr Innaiah. "When normal patients are struggling for a place in the hospitals, it's almost pointless to mention the plight of these vulnerable and neglected people with leprosy. Right now, we are in the grip of fear and danger and don't know what our destiny will be."
"After distributing medicines and conducting funerals, I have tested positive for Covid-19 myself, said Fr Innaiah. "With great difficulty, I managed to get hold of two doses of remdesivir and I am recovering. However, I need to do more tests and continue with the medication. There is a high demand for medicines and sometimes we are forced to buy from middlemen for a higher price," he added.
"Day by day new variant cases like black fungus are breaking-out and devastating the people. Many people including 140 priests all over India have lost their lives just within a span of 20 days in May 2021 due to Covid-19 and numerous people are suffering. Many young priests between 35 to 40 years of age have lost their precious lives."
"As the world is suffering from the effects of Covid-19, it is difficult to appreciate that there is another terrible disease out there," said SFLG's Chief Executive Officer, Clare McIntosh. "It's leprosy and while its existence is well known from the Bible, Egyptian papyri, roman herbals and medieval manuscripts, its cause was not discovered until 1873 and a cure, as recently as 1980s."
"My great concern is that people with leprosy may not be getting their core leprosy treatment as healthcare providers prioritise Covid-19 above all else. It is crucial that people with leprosy receive MDT otherwise there is a risk that they may develop terrible disabilities."
"This is a desperate situation for people with leprosy in India and throughout the world," Clare continued. "The absence of antiviral drugs and the speed of Covid-19 transmission have had a terrible impact on public health systems, leading to the total collapse of many national and local healthcare services. Only time will tell how or if people with leprosy survive the Covid-19 pandemic."
At present, St Anthony's is home to 46 leprosy patients: 26 women and 20 men. In addition, there are 19 children whose parents are leprosy affected (seven primary school children, eight secondary school children and four college students) and five married couples. The total number being supported by St Anthony's is 75.
St Anthony's mission is to restore human dignity and take care of people affected by leprosy and their dependents, who have been neglected and discriminated by their families and society an account of leprosy. The centre provides shelter, food, medical aid, clothing, shoes, and education for their children.
India is home to an estimated 1,000 leprosy communities or centres (once called leprosy colonies) where thousands of people live out their lives with the effects of this devastating disease. Most leprosy centres are remote because they are distanced from society due to fears of contagion. Their very survival often depends on the kindness of strangers.
St Francis Leprosy Guild - www.stfrancisleprosy.org/