South Sudan Closes Leper Colony To Develop Land

This woman, hands disfigured by leprosy and with no means of support, begs for food or any other offerings that can help her survive at a leper colony outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
This woman, hands disfigured by leprosy and with no means of support, begs for food or any other offerings that can help her survive at a leper colony outside Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
Hannah McNeish

South Sudan has shut down a leper colony outside Juba, long a refuge for the sick and vulnerable who are now finding themselves squeezed out of a booming capital in the world's newest country.

Dr. Joseph Wani carefully writes down the name of every person suffering from the affliction at the Luri Rokwe leper colony.  Like others here, his twisted and gnarled fingers and his right leg have not been spared by the disease.  Wani came here in 1948, when Sudan was ruled by the British, and fears over public health chased the lepers to the colony.

South Sudan split from the north last July after decades of civil war, during which this community survived on handouts, the care of Wani, and the growth of its own food.

Joseph Wani says there are almost 300 lepers living here, and about 1,000 of their children who were born and raised here.

But casting his eyes around the piles of rubble that were treasured homes just weeks ago, Wani fears the majority will have to leave this safe haven, which was demolished as part of a land allocation program.

“These are no houses," he said. "They are living under the trees, even some are living in the open places, because nowhere to go, and they are waiting for demarcation, for the land to be given to them."

A few small aid agencies still help the community, but Wani says proper programs stopped a few years ago.

The community also lost its cultivation land in 2005, when a peace deal was signed and the southern liberation army returned from the bush to set up its base here.  

It is now prime real estate on the outskirts of the capital.  But only 222 plots have been allocated to those from the colony, meaning the rest may be cast out of the only home they have ever known.

Key Facts About Leprosy

  • Total Population is 8.26 million
  • First documented around 1550 B.C.
  • Is a chronic bacterial disease
  • Is not highly transmissible, but carries significant stigma
  • Can lead to incurable disfigurement
  • 1 to 2 million people worldwide are disabled from leprosy
  • Mainly found in Central and Eastern Africa, Brazil, India, Nepal and Madagascar

Dr. James Wani, who runs leprosy programs at Juba Teaching Hospital and is no relation to Dr. Joseph Wani, says he is aware of two leper colonies in Central Equatoria state with about 1,400 people with leprosy.

The Ministry of Health could not provide a figure for how many people have leprosy in South Sudan’s 10 states.

James Wani believes most cases are hidden due to the shame and ignorance surrounding the disease, which can be cured within six to 18 months with the right drugs.

“The people of leprosy, they do not know that leprosy is an infectious disease and can be treated," said Wani. "They only know that leprosy is a curse, so when you have leprosy you are cursed, so that is why people are afraid to come out. But during our awareness, that is when they come out.”

He says people with leprosy from other states have come to the capital thinking they will find better treatment and understanding, but do not have the right papers to be allotted land.

The South Sudanese scouts have pledged to rebuild 47 homes of the most afflicted, but work has yet to start and the rains are just weeks away.

Aid agencies that donate food and hospital staff that have treated these people for years are worried about the health risks to this population if people are still living outside in the rainy season.

Aid worker Lori Bryan has been coming to the camp for years to help this community, and now fears for the survival of what she calls “an extremely vulnerable population”.

“Now the rains are going to be coming into Juba, and they have nothing to rebuild with, they have no money and they have no way to grow vegetables because they do not have any land," Bryan said. "So you already have very skinny people, very difficult for them to get water, that are now going to become more diseased and more thin and frail, that leads to more health complications and possible death.”

But back at the colony, Pastor Tombe Nasona, a child of leper parents, translates the grievances of his neighbor Elizabeth Kadia, who says there is a serious lack of food, shelter and water.

“We are left here, like we are just in a desert, nobody concerned with us," Kadia said. "Most of us did not receive land, and wind is blowing hard against us. We have nowhere to go because I am born here, all my parents met here, I was born here, grew up here, even made my family here, so I have nowhere to go.”

The government recently halted another demarcation program after violent clashes killed seven people and stoked tribal tensions as communities battled it out for land in Juba, Africa’s fastest growing capital.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs