▪ . by Fr William Burridge WF
The turn of the year brings to the Guild
Secretariat an avalanche of letters and packages from literally the ends of the Earth. They are the letters of thanks for allocations made by the Guild at the previous Annual General Meeting, reports of activities and pleas for help from the 120 or so leprosy centres on the Guild's list and many another hoping to be added to it.
Some of the reports are just a page or two, written perhaps with the unsteady hand of a fever-stricken missionary in some tropical outpost, others are produced as wads of neatly cyclo-styled sheets with all the professional air of systematic clinical research.
As they come one by one on to one's desk one is tempted to spin a globe round to locate the countries round the world from which they have come, Burma, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Vietnam,
China . Sierra Leone, Zambia, Malawi, Zaire ...
One letter from Dhanbad district, B ihar, India, illustrates many of the aspects common to all leprosy work, like the capital importance of starting treatment in the earliest possible stages of the disease and of educating the general population about leprosy whenever it is found.
The leprosy work centred on Dhanbad covers a vast coal
mining region. The priest in charge of the leprosy work writes that the most significant achievement has been in the leprosy workers' efforts to ensure early detection among the general public. The colliery authorities were approached and finally allowed arrangements to be made so that miners could be medically examined for traces of leprosy at the pithead. More than 2 per cent of them were found to show early symptoms.
One of the greatest obstacles to be overcome was the danger of workers evading registration for treatment for fear that they would lose their jobs if they were known to have leprosy. If a single worker was known to have been struck off the work force in that way it would have jeopardised the whole medical project. A meeting was held with general manager, medical officers and personnel staff and agreement was reached that no worker would be victimised in this way.
The region which has to be covered by the Dhanbad leprosy centre contains more than 400 colliery units.
But the detection of cases amongst the miners themselves has all kinds of ramifications. One which puts a considerable, sometimes an impossible strain on the limited leprosy personnel is that the families of infected miners have in turn to he visited, examined and if they reveal traces of leprosy, add still further to t he ever mounting list of people who must be treated regularly.
Besides this project for the miners and their families
Dhanbad has also its general programme of leprosy work. There are eighteen 'colonies' where lepers, usually in advanced stages of the disease are housed and cared for and there is a central hospital where patients can be brought in for nursing and surgical care especially those who have not had treatment at all until the disease's ravages have set in.
But many who are brought into the hospital are, thank God, people who have been cared for early enough to save
I hem from total disability. Large numbers will he able to return home. Unfortunately their families are often reluctant to have them back and a great deal of the welfare side of leprosy work is taken up with repeated visits to families, often in remote places, to dispel their apprehensions and encourage them to have the member of the family back.
At Dhanbad, as in all important leprosy centres, another feature is the work in the 'colonies'. Most of the leprosy victims given shelter there are crippled or grossly deformed. Some however are able to work a little.
There are two hostels which cater mainly for children from the leper 'colonies' who would otherwise not have an opportunity for the care they need and for schooling. One hostel has 100 girls and will eventually, it is planned, take double that number, and the other for 180 boys with plans to increase this number to 250.
From another centre of leprosy work there is the same report of alarming percentages of leprosy victims. Leprosy is widespread, it says. in the Garo Hills, Among a population of 400,000 there are, 12,000 lepers.
In this region they stay in their own huts made of bamboo and thatch. If the father or mother of a family has to be brought into the leprosy centre the whole family comes with them. This means that the children are exposed to the disease. To remedy this the missionaries try to provide the children with accommodation elsewhere, mostly near schools. 'The usual practice amongst people in this region is to keep their leper relatives at home with the family so long as they are able to do some work but if the leprosy gets worse and renders them incapable then a little hut is built for them in the jungle outside the village confines and there the leper will have to remain for the rest of his life.
Cardinal Basil Hume, Chief Patron of the Guild, who concelebrated Mass with priest committee members in Westminster Cathedral on Damien
One can readily believe the report when it speaks of the great joy brought by the leprosy workers as they go on their endless rounds to discover, console and care for these lepers.
"I always tell them about the Guild," one missionary writes, "for all this wonderful work is really being done thanks to the Guild. We missionaries are only the agents of your compassion and your true charity."
Wonderfully boosted by the response to Mr Stratford Johns' ("Barlow") appeal on BBC television last summer, the funds collected by the St. Francis Leprosy Guild in 1976 amounted to £105,000.
Please help the Guild to maintain its benefits to leprosy sufferers around the world at this new high level by your generous donation today. A wheel chair costs £125 now. £5 buys a course of drugs to cure a child in Africa.
Please use the coupon below to send a gift from you and your family or community.