Poornima and Supriya are receiving care thanks to effect:hope and its partners. (Photo courtesy of effect:hope)

Hope dispels long-held leprosy fears

Organization brings new life to those suffering from debilitating disease

Supriya is just 16 years old and she has leprosy. She lives in India, which has the world’s highest incidence of the disease, and where the very word inspires fear. Even today a leprosy diagnosis can result in stigma and isolation.

It was nearly six years ago that Supriya first noticed a strange tingling in her feet. When pebbles or sticks scratched her feet, she felt nothing. In time, Supriya’s feet became dry and cracked. The cracks developed into sores that progressed into unsightly ulcers.

Supriya was so embarrassed by her unusual walk and the sores on her feet that she couldn’t focus on her studies. She chose to leave school. Her parents agreed that perhaps time away from school to rest would hopefully help her recover. Sadly, she has not returned.

One day a doctor visited Supriya’s community and found her at home. He knew the symptoms she was facing were the tell-tale signs of leprosy. He explained to her family and neighbours about the disease and assured them this young girl could be completely cured.

Thankfully, Supriya experienced no stigma. But her life has changed forever.

Supriya went with the doctor to Naini Community Hospital, a partner of effect:hope. Her father accompanied his daughter on the two-day trip. At the hospital, her diagnosis was confirmed. Supriya was given medications to stop the spread of leprosy and heal the open wounds on her feet.

The bacteria have infiltrated most of the nerves in her feet, deforming them so she can no longer walk. She says each time she tries to walk on her own, pain shoots up her leg.

The tragedy is not over for Supriya; the most devastating news came when she learned her younger sister, Poornima, also has leprosy.

“I got this disease and now my younger sister also got the same disease as me. Because of this my life is almost spoiled. I don’t have any future. It has happened to me, but it shouldn’t happen to Poornima. She should be allowed to live her life,” she says from the long-term care cottage at the hospital.

Supriya and Poornima are set to receive surgery to correct the deformities. In time, the girls will return to school. It will be a long journey. The girls will need prayer and support.

The good news is that little Poornima came early to the hospital with her sister. Leprosy must be treated quickly with a combination of three medicines, collectively known as Multi-Drug Therapy, to ensure complete healing. However, many sufferers live in areas of the world that are poor and isolated. Many of them will not seek a doctor’s advice until the disease is already well advanced.

Patients can suffer many types of disfigurement or even impairment: blindness from eyes that cannot blink, limbs that cannot feel heat, cold or pain. Wounds to their feet and hands become infected, sometimes so severely they must be amputated to avoid further deformities.

While these physical consequences challenge many, it is the stigma against leprosy that causes much of the pain. Fear surrounding this disease has been passed down through generations—stories that the person is cursed or being punished from the gods for horrific sins. Family and community turn their backs on those with leprosy and many suffer extreme discrimination, isolation and abuse.

Supriya’s fear can be replaced with hope and courage. She should not—at just 16 years old—feel her life is over. She needs to hear that leprosy is a serious challenge, but it can be overcome.

One beacon for these girls is effect:hope, a Christian international development organization that works with a community of compassionate Canadians, churches and partners overseas to bring hope to children with leprosy, like Supriya and Poornima. The power of God’s Spirit to change people’s lives is present in their work through a ministry that strives to heal each child, woman and man completely—their body, mind and spirit.

Each year, Canadian churches rally to support girls like Supriya and Poornima. World Leprosy Day, a day of prayer, support and hope, takes place each year on the last Sunday of January. In 2016, more than 700 Canadian churches will include the story of Poornima and Supriya in their services on January 31.

When each church sets a financial goal to provide an early diagnosis and cure for one, five, 10 or more people with leprosy, lives are transformed and hope is re-born.

effect:hope champions World Leprosy Day in Canada. If you or your church would like to participate please visit www.worldleprosyday.ca for more information or contact Lynda at wld@effecthope.org to sign up for World Leprosy Day.

Together, we can replace fear with hope.

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