SO AS TO RETURN THEM THE HUMAN DIGNITY
Last year we were celebrating the jubilee 60th World Day of the Lepers. The mains celebrations were organized on the Coast of Ivory where God’s servant Raoul Follereau with sister Eugenia, the Superior of the Convent of Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles, started a big battle, whose aim was not only treating the lepers but returning them a normal family and social life. Through whole centuries the lepers had been suffering twice: because of their wounds caused by leprosy but also because of exclusion. Therefore, the first exemplary village Adzope which was created just on the Coast of Ivory, 150 km from the capital city of Abidżan, was a place where the lepers were treated, nursed and had a possibility for social rehabilitation through learning and work.
Adzope – is not only history
When in March 2013 I visited this centre, run by the sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles, I expected a sentimental visit which would allow me to return to ‘those years’ of heroic struggles with the most terrible illness of humankind. Whereas in the village with the medical centre which today is called the Institute of Raoul Follereau, I quickly understood that a fight with leprosy is not only history but also a serious challenge of today. I saw all beds occupied both in the part designed for men and for women. Among the ill people I met elderly people, young people and children. Unfortunately, a significant part of ill people arrived here too late, that is, in such a state of developed illness that despite of curing them out of leprosy, they will never be able to exist independently. Among patients of the Institute of Follereau I met many ill people suffering from the most aggressive form of leprosy called urcele du Buruli. Those patients, after a routine antibiotic therapy, are waiting for operations of radical surgery based on amputations and skin transplantation which can save their lives.
A lot changed in the functioning of the centre in which is there is also a school for children and a scientific institute run by prof. Bamba Vagamona. What has not changed is the atmosphere which is created by sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles. In the very centre of the institute, in the middle of the central square, in front of the chapel with a small cloister building there is a statue of Our Lady and a small monument of Raoula Follereau nearby. The area of the whole centre reminds a beautiful garden in which one can see exotic trees, bushes and flowers. Beside doctor, lab workers, nurses, also volunteers work here. Sometimes somebody from France arrives here in order to devote a few months for the sake of the lepers. I also met a deacon Tomasz from Benin who, getting prepared for priestly ordination decided to serve to the lepers here for a year.
Leprosy in the world
What I saw on the Coast of Ivory, which beside Benin and Angola is in the lead of African countries still endangered by spreading leprosy, shows the current situation in the world. On the one hand, we have satisfaction with what we succeeded in achieving during the last decades, when the number of the lepers decreased from a several millions to the level below half a million of ill people. However, despite the great engagement of many institutions cooperating with the World Health Organization, International Leaders in Educational Program (ILEP), or the Movement of Follereau, to the final elimination of this illness is still far to reach. For a few years the number of the lepers has not been decreasing, and even here or there we deal with a small increase of the illness cases. It concerns both Southern-Eastern Asia (including India and Nepal), where leprosy is the most widespread, as well as Africa, islands of the Pacific and countries of the Mediterranean basin. A statement of the director of the general public health department by the health ministry of Burunda, dr. LiboireNgirigi has been published recently, who stated that in the last years leprosy had become a serious health problem anew. In 2007 in the country where Polish Carmelite fathers work, 248 new cases of the illness have been reported, a few years later there were over 500 such cases.
A voice of specialists
Many scientists and doctors dealing with health problems in the poorest regions of the world are thinking on the reasons of the still disappearing perspective of complete elimination of leprosy.
Leprosy is still a synonym of poverty and exclusion, and people suffering from this illness often live in places inaccessible for medical services – if they wanted to undergo treatment, they would have to travel a distance beyond a hundred kilometres. We also know the defiance of patients to consultation. Leprosy starts with a small spot on the body which is often ignored. Ill people, strongly connected with traditional superstitions, prefer to consult a charlatan, magician than a doctor. But the biggest defiance against searching for medical help is connected with fear of revealing the infection with the embarrassing illness. Other reasons are lack of sufficient number of medical staff trained to carry out diagnostic examinations in the area and a difficult access to medicaments.
The priorities in the fight with leprosy are: education, formation of medical staff, developing structures of health protection, accessibility to medicaments and care about the lepers and their families, physical and social rehabilitation. From the practical point of view, the most important need is continuation of organizing difficult, sometimes dangerous movable medical missions which allow ill people who do not have any possibility to reach to any medical centre. In this context, the work of missionaries of the Catholic Church, who reach further than any other official medical mission, is still invaluable.
From medical point of view, an important issue which is a subject of specialists’ interest today are the illness relapses.
A difficult return to life
Diagnostics, therapy and rehabilitation are only a part of the program of helping people afflicted by the disease of leprosy. Their social rehabilitation is also important. Leprosy is still considered as an embarrassing disease which excludes a man from his environment. A truly dramatic situation is of those whose health leprosy destroyed, whom it hurt so much that they are not able to work for themselves and their families. These people are often in leprosy rehabilitation centres – till the end of their lives. There are also such people who, despite their disability, get organized and try to gain means for life themselves. An example is the Association for the sake of Promoting the former Lepers, founded by our friend Abdel Kader Ahmedou, afflicted by leprosy. Despite their disabilities, they organize work for themselves, establishing guarded car parks or farms. A few years ago the Polish Foundation of Raoul Follereau bought wheelchairs. Last year we financed building a water well situated on the area designed for a farm.
The development of the activity among people afflicted by the results of leprosy is being done in two centres also by Polish missionaries, among the others, dr. Helena Pyz from the centre Jeevodaya in Indie and sister Józefa Franke from the Congregation of Sisters the Silesian Servants in Kamerun, sister Noema Świeboda from the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Sisters in Kongo Brazzaville, sister Róża Gąsior from the Congregation of Servants of the Holy Spirit in Angola. The World Day of the Lepers celebrated every last Sunday of January is an occasion to support their beautiful ministry with a prayer and sacrifice.
One day a man suffering from leprosy came to Jesus and, falling on his knees, was asking Him: If you want, you can heal me. Feeling compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and said to him: I want you to be healed! At once leprosy went away and he was healed (see Mk. 1.40).
AN APPEAL OF THE CHAIRMAN OF THE POLISH FOUNDATION OF RAOULA FOLLEREAU ON 61. WORLD DAY OF THE LEPERS
The World Day of the Lepers, established from the initiative of God’s Servant Raoula Follereau is an occasion to remind the whole world that in the poorest regions of the world there are people afflicted by the oldest and the most terrible disease known to humankind. For nearly thirty years this dangerous infectious disease has been curable. Several millions of people suffering from leprosy have been cured. But there is still a long way to eliminate this disease completely. Every year there are over 200 thousand new cases. Therefore, again, on the last Sunday of January, in front of churches in the whole world, money is collected to save the lepers. Most of them are under care in missionary places and other care and treatment institutions connected with the Catholic Church. Foundations, associations and centres named Raoula Follereau belong to them. Basic medicaments against leprosy are provided by OMS, but means for maintaining and developing treatment-rehabilitation centres are needed, formation of medical staff, care about the lepers and their families. Moreover, means for developing scientific experiments are needed in order to find new methods of diagnostics and treatment which would allow for eliminating leprosy completely in the nearest years.
Each of us can say like Christ: ‘I want you to be healed’, by supporting those with a prayer and sacrifice, about whom the world has forgotten.
Dr. Kazimierz Szałata
Chairman of the Polish Foundation of Raoula Follereau
Founder of the International Union Follereau
Polish Foundation Raoula Follereau
ul. Rembielińska 10/24, 03-343 Warszawa
NIP 524 10 76 071
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