In an effort to combat the spread of lebrosy, Liberia's Health Ministry has set up its first-ever TB & Leprosy Treatment Center in the northeastern town of Ganta in Nimba County - where dozens of people have contracted the diseases.
The treatment center is trying to battle not only the disease but also the belief that lepers have been cursed by their ancestors.
The Ganta Leprosy Center treats some 300 men, women and children living with leprosy. John Saah Brimah, who runs the center, says one priority is to educate the community on how to prevent the transmission of leprosy.
“The first line of prevention is somebody who you know has leprosy and is not on treatment, when they are coughing or sneezing you ask them to cover their mouth and nose while coughing," Brimah says. "The second line could be you take all of the children that are born, to be vaccinated. Because one of the vaccines, which is BCG help you to reduce the getting of the worst part of leprosy. I am not saying that when you take the vaccine you will not get leprosy but you will not get the worst one.”
The spread of the disease in rural Liberia is due to widely held belief that the disease is caused by mystical powers and one that cannot be cured by modern medicine, according to Brimah, who adds more health workers are being trained to educate patients and their families.
“We have trained people who are working in those TB clinics more about leprosy. So whenever you see these things I am talking about, a red mark on you that is not hurting and it is not itching, you have to report to these clinics," he says. "Any of the big hospitals in Liberia are all having TB clinics open in them because this leprosy and TB they are like uncle and nephew. It is the same germ that can cause both of them. So every TB clinic should have the facility of also treating leprosy.”
Abraham Tamba, 40, a patient at the center, has been receiving treatment for more than seven months. His hands are deformed and he says family members abandoned him because of his condition.
“My conditions are terrible. All of my hands are deformed. I have been suffering from this illness for several months now," Tamba says. "And to make my situation more worsen, my family members have turned against me and no one wants to care for me. I am doing everything be myself. That’s how it looks.”
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial disease of the skin and nerves in the hands and feet and, in some cases, the lining of the nose. It is not clear how the leprosy germ is spread, but household and prolonged close contact is important. The germs probably enter the body through the nose and possibly through broken skin. The germs get in the air through nasal discharge of untreated lepromatous patients. Patients with leprosy should be treated by a doctor who has experience with the disease. Treatment is with multiple drugs for six months to two years.
The TB and Leprosy Control program of Liberia plans to publish nationwide figures on instances of leprosy in Liberia soon. But, for now, it is providing treatment and shelter for more than 1,000 patients suffering from the disease.