Recently I told someone that January 31st is World Leprosy Day. “Haven’t they cured that yet?” was the brusque response I received. Yes, leprosy can be cured, but the disease continues to affect 15 million people worldwide. Nearly 5 million of them live in India, and one-fourth of these are undernourished children below 15 years of age. Leprosy still ranks as a major public health problem!
The Leprosy bacterium can infect nearly every organ in the body. The face and limbs are mutilated because the germ prefers cooler ambient temperatures, not 98.6F. No one is really sure why children are predisposed, but you can be sure living in a filthy environment with dirty drinking water and poor nutrition contribute greatly.
What’s a mother to do? I accompanied a young mother and her three children, all lepers, to the village clinic to pick up their medicine. The doctor explained they would each have to take three different drugs a day and return every three months. He then poured a three month supply of pills into a piece of old newspaper, bundled it up and wished her well. If you are counting, that’s 1080 pills! One bright note, the medicine was free. The family returned home to a one-room hut with no nice medicine cabinet and no sanitary source of drinking water – not even clean drinking glasses. I asked the mother if she could organize the daily doses and make sure the kids take them. She said they were usually good at taking them for a week and then they all gradually stop taking them. And so the saga continues.
One night the doorbell rang at the convent. Being the closest one to the door, I went to see who it was. It was a man with leprosy and three children under 5 years of age. His leprosy was very advanced; he had very few gnarled fingers, a very deformed right foot, and a really damaged nose. He said, “Please take my children into your hostel as my wife has just died from AIDS and I can’t take care of these children. Please let me leave them with you and I will go on to the Leper colony.” I was so happy that we have Siena Home, a hostel for children in need. We were able to help this man provide for his children.
I was very proud to learn that our school in India was one of the first to take children with leprosy into our school. The Sisters made sure that these children received their medicines daily and were in no way a harm to the other children. At first some parents complained but when Sister was able to explain the circumstances to them they all accepted these children. One of these children was the little girl who came crying to Sister, “Please don’t tell them I am a Leper.” Ironically she is an orphan from AIDS!
Thank you very much and God bless you,
Sr. Mary Beth
P.S. – Please, if you haven’t helped recently, do what you can to help our Sisters provide for the very needy children of this world. 100% of your gift gets to the kids!
Think — tax time is coming — it’s either the tax man gets your money or the kids.
The Religious Teachers Filippini is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and will send you an acknowledgment of your contribution.
P.S.P.S. – Don’t think you are so safe — there are an estimated 7,000 cases of leprosy in NYC!!