Lepers at street corners are old story. They come and tug at our clothes, they show us palms which used to have fingers, they cry pitiably. They do all this and more, but most of us never do anything. Good or bad.
Well, thankfully there are those who are not passive, not indifferent, and don't turn their faces away when approached by a leper. In fact, they do the opposite. That, in a nutshell, is Lepra. They are a boon not only to those who are afflicted, but serve as a reminder to the rest of us that there is so much more that we can still do to enhance someone else's life.
Lepra Society is the Indian branch of Lepra UK, which was set up to provide aid to people with leprosy. It was set up in India in 1988 and has been functioning in AP since 1989. It works to restore health, hope and dignity to people afflicted by leprosy and other "untouchable" diseases.
Lepra has made Hyderabad its HQ, and has done significant work in the areas of spreading awareness, preventive measures and, most importantly, therapy.
Lepra's primary concern may be eradication of disease, but it places a lot of weightage on therapy as well. Now there is more to therapy than that meets the eye. Sure, medicines can be given, doctors can be arranged for and subsequent follow-ups too. But what about healing the soul? What about transforming an individual's way of looking at himself? Of feeling like a member of society? Lepra's stance on the matter has restored many a snatched privilege back to the victims.
The core activities of Lepra Society are carried out as per the guidelines of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) of the Government of India.
Lepra's initial focus was on leprosy, but soon after, the myriad of health concerns caused them to start focussing on diverse diseases like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Lepra has centers in Hyderabad and RR District, and various projects relating to the specific needs of the region are catered to - viz. Hylep, Cheyutha et al.
They now have active care-and-support, and drop-off centers for HIV+ patients and those who have AIDS. They outsource their tests to hospitals like Osmania, but the rest of the duties are taken up by the Lepra staff - administering the antiretroviral medicines, having weekly clinics tracking the progression of the disease and any other associated problems.
The activities of Lepra's HIV and AIDS wing-CHEYUTHA, is carried out by their workers; voluntary and paid staff. These workers are special, not only because of the responsibility they have undertaken willingly, but because they know better than anyone else what it feels like to be stigmatized and, often, live on borrowed time. Yes, the majority of the workers there are HIV+ or infected with TB, and they provide for their own catharsis by nurturing those who have newly been diagnosed or are critically ill.
Lepra carries out its campaigns by going to schools, colleges and government institutions. In turn, they are helped out by government grants, various private clubs et al. It bears noticing that even here it is the patients who have been or still are afflicted, that go out and tackle the job of spreading the message about leprosy, AIDS etc. They have discovered at great cost that it is not merely enough to treat the patients themselves, they have to remedy the mindsets of the people and eradicate these diseases from their minds as well.
When you walk into Lepra, the one thing that WILL surprise you is the extent of security they have felt necessary for an NGO. There's a story behind this, too - in the guise of doing good, journalists have on occasion invaded the privacy of the patients, leading to their further ostracism.
Acceptance, nurturing and, above all, respect are keywords at Lepra. No one is beyond these things, no matter what their condition in life.
And despite having taken on such a monumental responsibility, they have been able to keep to their goals, their promises, to the "dregs" of society and have been able to draw attention from us armchair social workers as well. Lepra not only serves as a sign that there is hope for those thus-afflicted but also is a daily reminder that things can be and are being accomplished. All it takes is a little bit of time, care and a wish to reach out and make a ripple of difference in someone's life.
Lepra has volunteers who help administer the medicines, take the patients to their doctors, help out in office work, campaigning, and, most importantly, spending time with the patients and bringing some laughter into their lives.