MISSIONARY OF THE MONTH FOR NOVEMBER IS
THE LEPROSY MISSION
Leprosy is a medical condition, and is caused by a microscopic bacterium first discovered by Dr Armauer Hansen, a Norwegian doctor in 1873. Leprosy is infectious but it is very difficult to catch and cannot be caught by a handshake. Last year 296,000 new cases were detected - 800 people a day. The disease is found in all areas of the world but mainly in Asia, South America and Africa. In Mozambique, Indonesia, DR Congo and Brazil new cases of leprosy continue to increase each year. Leprosy is curable with Multidrug Therapy (MDT), a powerful combination of two to three drugs.
The first outward sign of leprosy is a patch on the skin, usually associated with loss of feeling. Leprosy attacks surface nerves in cool spots of the body such as fingers and toes which become anaesthetised - they stop feeling pain .They can then easily become injured through stiffness, cuts, burns and bruises as nothing is felt . Infection sets in which results in tissue loss, fingers and toes shorten as cartilage is absorbed by the body and bones become irreparably damaged. While leprosy doesn't cause fingers or toes to drop off, it is capable of causing disability and even blindness if left untreated. There are around 3 million people affected by leprosy, including those who have completed their medical treatment but have a disability or are stigmatised. Fear of the disease often causes rejection and exclusion from one's home and community.
The Leprosy Mission works in a number of areas helping suffers. Their aim is ‘to minister in the name of Jesus Christ to the physical, mental, social and spiritual needs of individuals and communities disadvantaged by leprosy; working with them to uphold human dignity and eradicate leprosy.’
The mission organises self-help groups for people living with the disabilities left after leprosy has caused nerve damage. The members encourage each other and are also provided with practical help and training. Members learn how to look after their skin by soaking and gently cleaning away hard skin and massaging the skin to retain moisture. Finger exercise is important, muscles may have become damaged so that they do not straighten the fingers after gripping something.
The mission also runs hospitals providing ophthalmology services for Leprosy patients. People affected by leprosy can develop lagopthalmos - an inability to blink as the muscles around the eye have been damaged. Other sight problems can arise due to leprosy reaction. The body can have an adverse reaction to the waxy exterior of dead bacteria cells which can remain in the body after they have been killed causing the need for surgery.
One of the surgeons working with the Leprosy Mission talked about her work.
“It’s an organisation that is Christian and says so up front. I love the way we start our work day with a devotion and prayer. I love the way I can pray for every patient before I start the operation, the way we pray for sick patients, for staff and for every need of the mission. I have seen the power of such prayer and the answers God gives. I so totally depend on God in everything I do. I owe my surgical and clinical skills to Him. I know he is the one who gives wisdom to diagnose and treat patients, that He holds my hands when I operate and that He heals my patients.”
Floods are a regular problem in Myanmar, in one village the Leprosy Mission provided partial funds to build a raised pathway in and out of the village which enabled disabled people to move around more freely.
The Leprosy Mission have a research complex at the Ananadaban Hospital in Nepal. Since 1983 up to 100 scientific papers have been produced contributing to the global knowledge of leprosy.
Pray for the Leprosy Mission and their work.
For more background information read the biography of Dr Paul Brand, Ten Fingers for God, by Dorothy Clarke Wilson.