Home Health Battling Stigma and Disease: Leprosy Treatment Efforts in Bajaur

Battling Stigma and Disease: Leprosy Treatment Efforts in Bajaur

The establishment of the first leprosy treatment center in Bajaur traces back to the efforts of Dr. Ruth Pfau, a renowned leprosy expert from Germany, in 1977.
by Shah Khalid Shah Jee - 26 Mar, 2024 2905

Fazal-e-Akbar, a 57-year-old resident of Bitmalai in Tehsil Salarzai, Bajaur, recalls his battle with leprosy, a disease he was diagnosed with seven years ago during a routine check-up in Peshawar. Initially dismissing symptoms of lethargy and bone pain, his condition worsened until a visit to the District Headquarters Hospital Khar confirmed the diagnosis.

Struggling with loss of appetite, bone pain, and fatigue, Fazal-e-Akbar embarked on a five-year treatment journey, marked by regular check-ups and medical interventions. Today, he rejoices in complete recovery, attributing his healing to timely medical care and divine intervention.

The establishment of the first leprosy treatment center in Bajaur traces back to the efforts of Dr. Ruth Pfau, a renowned leprosy expert from Germany, in 1977. Her initiative aimed to combat the prevalence of leprosy in the region, leading to the establishment of a second center in Pusht, Tehsil Salarzai, to cater to more patients.

Progress and Challenges in Leprosy Control

With two dedicated centers operating in the Bajaur district, a total of 661 leprosy patients were registered by 2022, with 135 undergoing treatment in Pusht and the remainder in Khar. Despite challenges, including age-related complications, the centers have made significant strides in patient care and recovery.

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Barkat Shah, Head of the Leprosy Control Center, highlights the success stories within these centers, noting the recovery of five patients in 2022, signaling a positive trend in combating the disease. With no new registrations, the centers stand testament to the efficacy of treatment and awareness campaigns.

Nationwide Efforts in Leprosy Eradication

Nationwide, efforts to combat leprosy have been ongoing, with data from the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Center in Karachi revealing 59,290 registered patients across Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, 9,664 cases were reported, with a majority of patients achieving recovery.

Despite progress, challenges persist, particularly in Sindh province, which accounts for 60% of leprosy cases due to limited awareness and accessibility to treatment centers. Increased education and outreach efforts are crucial in ensuring timely intervention and eradication of the disease.

Overcoming Fear and Stigma

Fazal-e-Akbar, reflecting on his journey with leprosy, shares his initial fear of contracting the disease prevalent in his village. This apprehension led him to distance himself from his family for three years, despite reassurances from doctors that he could lead a normal life with timely medication. Registered at the leprosy center in Khar Hospital, he received monthly medication free of cost.

Understanding Leprosy Transmission

Barkat explains that leprosy, caused by microscopic bacteria, primarily affects the skin and nerves, with an average incubation period of three years. Spread through respiratory droplets, similar to tuberculosis, precautionary measures like covering one's mouth while coughing are essential. Prompt diagnosis is crucial for any unusual spots or rashes that lack sensitivity, warranting immediate consultation with a leprosy center.

While noting the historical stigma surrounding leprosy, Barkat acknowledges recent strides in combating the disease, with no new cases reported since 2023. However, he cautions against premature declarations of Bajaur's leprosy-free status, emphasizing continued vigilance and awareness efforts to ensure sustained progress.

Effective Treatment Options

Barkat underscores the effectiveness of Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) in curing leprosy within six to twelve months, allowing patients to lead normal lives. Provided free of charge by the World Health Organization, timely access to medication is vital in preventing disabilities associated with the disease.

He urges individuals with symptoms to seek prompt diagnosis and treatment at leprosy centers for comprehensive care.