Matching Grant helps leprosy patients in India
By Peter Schmidtke
Rotary International News -- 3 February 2009
Leprosy patients in India have regained the use of previously paralyzed eyelids, fingers, wrists, and ankles through a project funded in part by a US$21,000 Matching Grant from The Rotary Foundation.
The Rotary clubs of the Hague-Metropolitan, The Netherlands, and Lucknow, India, partnered to provide reconstructive surgery to 106 leprosy patients in Uttar Pradesh, India.
The surgeries, completed in March, corrected conditions caused by leprosy, a bacterial disease that affects the skin, nerves, and mucous of the upper respiratory tract and eyes.
Although the disease had permanently damaged specific nerve fibers in some of the patients, doctors were able to restore movement by connecting tendons from muscles with healthy nerve tissue to joints in the affected areas.
( Leprosy patient Phool Kumari (right) consults with a physical therapist prior to receiving surgery to repair her foot. Photo courtesy of Rotary club of Lucknow, India.)
One of the beneficiaries was 25-year-old Phool Kumari, who received physical therapy as well as surgery. Kumari had been losing the ability to lift her left foot or move her toes, which affected her ability to walk normally. Even though she had received drug treatment to cure the leprosy, she was still stigmatized by villagers. The surgery and therapy improved her situation considerably.
Dispelling myths about leprosy, such as how the disease spreads, was another goal of the project. According to the World Health Organization, leprosy is not highly contagious. The 137,000 new cases in India last year -- more than half of the total global cases in 2007 -- were transmitted through close and frequent contact.
Despite the project's benefits, Rotarians faced challenges finding patients. They worked with a state government health agency to contact leprosy patients and bring them in for surgical screenings hosted by local Rotarians.
Spreading the word
"Most of the leprosy-affected persons live in isolation," says Indian-born Dev Chadha, a member of the Dutch club and coordinator for Netherlands Leprosy Relief for Uttar Pradesh. "Convincing them to undergo surgery was a difficult task."
"Initially, the turnout at the camps was low," says Chadha. "But word spread about the surgery from patients whose deformed limbs had become functional."
Lucknow Rotarians coordinated transportation for the patients and assisted with pre- and postoperative care, including providing all meals.
Government officials throughout India have praised the project.
"It's the first time I have seen Rotary rendering a service of a permanent nature for leprosy patients and enabling them to earn a livelihood -- by correcting their deformed limbs," says Arun K. Mishra, national government planning commission adviser. "I want Rotary to continue this project."
In an earlier phase of the Matching Grant project, Lucknow Rotarians recruited 19 other clubs and numerous health workers in 2004 to distribute kitchen utensils with insulated handles to patients who had suffered irreversible sensory loss. Those who had developed ulcers from related injuries received ulcer care kits.