Lepers struggle to cope in worsening economic crisis

HARARE – Life is never easy for people afflicted by leprosy, but Zimbabwe’s fast deteriorating socioeconomic conditions have made it even more challenging.


At the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement in Zimbabwe’s northeastern Mutoko communal lands, 90 km east of the capital, Harar

e, the patients are desperately in need of food, clothing and financial assistance as the centre’s coffers are empty. The centre also urgently needs money for bedding, repairs and maintenance of the facilities.


Auxillia Chiviya, an official at the settlement, which was founded in 1937, told IRIN the situation could become disastrous if no solution to the centre’s financial problems was found within the next month.


The already critical situation at the settlement has been worsened by the current economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Basic commodities such as fuel, food and medical supplies are scarce and galloping inflation, currently at 782 percent, has made what little stocks are available inaccessible to the poor.


Rodney Kasiyapfumbi, a patient at the settlement, said donations that used to come in have dried up. Another patient, Nurse Kambarami, said she had been surviving on a small helping of sadza (maize-meal porridge) every day.


According to Chiviya, in the 1940s and 50s the settlement grew into a huge leprosarium with nearly 1,000 patients. Later, with the advent of the drug, Dapsone, which halts the disease, many patients were sent back to their homes, where relatives could care for them.


Mutemwa Leprosy centre is home to 50 patients who have suffered severe deformity and are disabled and destitute – some have lost limbs and others have been blinded by the disease – who would otherwise have no-one to care for them.


Despite the ongoing deprivation suffered by the patients as a result of the harsh economic conditions in the country, the centre has remained a haven for people affected by leprosy, as they often suffered rejection by the broader populace.


“Some people do not want to share utensils with you … (or) to be close to you because you are a leper,” said Kambarami.


Faith Chimanda, a supporter of the settlement, said many people did not understand the disease. “Stigmatisation of people affected by leprosy dates back to biblical times, where they were seen to be cursed people,” she commented.

“In the current crisis in Zimbabwe there is more need than ever to raise funds for the work to continue, to supply basic needs and medical care for the patients.” — IRIN

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