Described as the Leprosy hotbed of the country, Mashare Village continues to house hundreds of leprosy sufferers who, despite being infected with the communicable disease, are allowed to mingle with fellow villagers because there is no isolation camp.
This has raised fears that more people could be infected when they mingle openly with those who have been diagnosed with the disease. Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae). It commonly causes severe nerve damage and disfiguring pale-coloured skin sores on the arms and legs. Nerve damage can affect the eyes, lead to muscle weakness and a loss of feeling in the arms and legs.
In a ministerial report authored by the Minister of Health and Social Services Bernard Haufiku during his visit to Mashare earlier this year, the health minister expressed concern over the absence of an isolation camp for those affected.
“Despite many complaints especially by opposition members of parliament about reported isolations of people who suffer or have suffered from Leprosy, I was surprised to see that there is no Leprosy camp at Omashare. There is only a community fully integrated into society, who have been cured from Leprosy and TB. Unfortunately some of the people remain with physical disabilities and disfigurement as a result of Leprosy, but many are able to provide and take care of themselves,” noted the minister in the report.
According to the minister’s findings during his visit to Mashare, some people still do not have national ID cards. This has hampered them from being registered as beneficial of the disability grant as a Namibian ID card is a prerequisite for registration to receive these disability and other social grants from the government.
“The Community members at Mashare who suffered and got deformed from Leprosy are therefore advised to seek Namibian national identity cards if they haven’t got one in order to be registered and receive grants,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared leprosy as officially eliminated as a public health problem globally, but the disease is still widespread in regions where, doctors say, poverty and stigma have kept patients hidden and untreated, as in the case of Mashare.
The problem is, in part, one of definitions: a disease is classed as “eliminated” if fewer than one in 10,000 people contract it in a given year. Although not highly infectious, leprosy is transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth, during close and frequent contact with untreated cases. Leprosy is curable with a multi-drug therapy (MDT), and treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.
Global statistics from WHO indicate that nearly 600 more people are diagnosed with and start treatment for leprosy every day globally, while 213 899 were diagnosed with the disease in the world in 2014 alone.
Last year 11 cases of leprosy were recorded. Kavango East, Kavango West, Zambezi and Oshana have been identified as the hotspots.
Leprosy sufferers abandoned
All People’s Party (APP) Secretary General Vincent Kanyetu blasted the ruling party for abandoning the people of Mashare saying the colonial government had programmes for these people.
“It is a shame and disgrace to the government that after all these years they have not done anything for the people of Mashare. All we have seen is electioneering and sweet talks but no action. You will hear them when elections are approaching but there is nothing done for them. We know these people exist and they are only surviving by the grace of God,” he said.
Kanyetu called on the government to walk its talk and came to the rescue of Mashare, saying the helpless people without feet and hands find it hard to make ends meet.
Many buildings in the area are vacant. According to Haufiku’s enquiry, they were apparently used by the ministry of Agriculture and have been abandoned to date. The units, he says are ideal for hosting mental patients in Kavango East, which would come in handy for the Leprosy patients.
Haufiku has supported the Kavango East governor Samuel Mbambo recommendation that some facilities at Omashare be converted into a mental hospital unit to cater for the great demand for mental health facilities in the regions.
“I couldn’t agree more with the Governor. The facilities are truly suitable for a mental hospital. I have therefore directed the Regional Director for Kavango East Health Directorate to see to it that a process of transforming these units at Omashare into Psychiatric units takes place without delay. The Director, in liaison with the Office of Acting PS in Windhoek as well as the National Directorate concerned with Physical Infrastructures in the Ministry start a consultative process with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to see their concurrence for the Ministry of Health & Social Services to utilize their Physical Infrastructures for our health needs, especially mental health,” said Haufiku.
The Global Leprosy Strategy 2016-2020 “Accelerating towards a leprosy-free world” was developed through a series of consultations with various stakeholders during 2014 and 2015.
Inputs were provided by national leprosy programmes, technical agencies, independent leprosy experts, public health experts, funding agencies and representatives of affected patients and communities.
The strategy is built around three major pillars, strengthen government ownership and partnerships; stop leprosy and its complications and stopping discrimination and promote inclusion.
Its goal is to further reduce the global and local leprosy burden, thereby aiming for zero children with leprosy-affected disabilities, a reduction of new patients diagnosed with leprosy-related deformities to less than one per million population and a repeal of all laws that allow discrimination of leprosy patients. The strategy was endorsed by the WHO Technical Advisory Group on leprosy.