28 Jan 2013 11:00
Leprosy has been identified as a major health problem in Ethiopia since the 1950's, when the effort to control leprosy began by the establishment of a National leprosy office in the Ministry of Health with the support of German Leprosy Relief Association (GLRA). There are three main regions where Leprosy is still endemic, that is Oromiya, Amhara and SNNPRG in the Central and South Eastern highlands.
Following the introduction of MDT and the consequent reduction in the duration of treatment, there resulted a constant and steady decline in the prevalence of leprosy. Due to the reduction in number of patients registered, which has also reduced the workload of leprosy services, they have integrated the leprosy program within the general health services. The integration services covers a wider geographical area and is closer to the community. This integration is believed to reduce the stigma associated with leprosy and they think may have an impact on the epidemiology.
Today however lepers are rarely included in society. In Northern Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, thousands of lepers lives in poverty with their families, excluded from Ethiopian society. Their plight is nothing new in this poor East African country. Since the 19th century Western travelers or scientists have described the harsh living conditions of these outcast carrying, as thought back then, a very contagious sickness. About three thousand live in this northern slum, trying to survive by begging on the streets of the capital, or near the only church of the area. Such a woman, Kelbe Adamu, 60 years old, left her small village hoping to find better understanding of her countrymen in the capital. She was quickly disappointed, as her life did not improve. However with time she was able to find a small job sewing traditional Ethiopian clothes and bed sheets with other women lepers, making a small living, enough to feed herself and her grandchildren born in the slum.
But not all is bleak. A group of women with leprosy have gotten together to fight their condition. They created a small business where a dozen or so of these women knit and put together traditional garments and bed sheets. Using their bare hands and ancients machinery, these women have managed to organize a small business where they can earn a small salary from their sales. Kelebe, 60 years old, is one of these women. She arrived in the slum from the Northern part of the country to start over and perhaps find a better life after her husband died. She brought with her, her children, cousins, and other relatives, to increase their chances of survival. Once there, she was quickly reminded that her condition would not make things life easy for her and her family. She managed to find a shack made out of mud with metal roofing, and dirt floors. She, however did not give up, and joined these businesswomen. The fruit of her work has helped her to feed herself as well as her family members. In fact it has allowed her to prosper, buy new close and give some schooling to the youngest in her family.
With an ongoing fix price of 50$ for the most expensive bedding, the little company has been able to sustain itself for a few years now, feeding a dozen family. However this small grouping seem to be the exception to the rule. Most lepers in the slum keep starving; their offspring have no more future than their parents did before them, and the government seems uninterested in helping this portion of the population.