Dr. Okezie Mbadiwe, a surgeon and consultant of Urology medicine at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, speaks on the scourge
Can a leprous woman infect her child during pregnancy?
There is no risk at all if a leper marries a fellow leper and bears a child. Such a child can never be infected because there is no risk at all. The only way the child can get it is by associating with the parents.
The disease is not transmitted through inheritance. It is only transmitted by close contact with infected persons, not by inheritance. If the parents have not been treated and have close contact with the child, such a child will easily contact it.
What causes leprosy and is it treatable?
An organism called myco-bacterium, and then leprae cause leprosy. It is a treatable disease. If the person is identified early and the necessary treatment given, he or she will be completely cured. Complications set in if a victim is not identified early and, or, if not given the necessary treatment.
How expensive is the treatment?
Treatment for leprosy is free – completely free. There are two functional hospitals where free treatment are offered to leprosy patients. These two general hospitals are University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu State and Mile Four Hospital in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State. UNTH handles both tuberculosis and leprosy free-of-charge, sponsored by the German TB and Leprosy Relief Organisation.
What is the duration of the treatment?
The average duration for successful treatment is between 12 and 18 months, depending on the type of leprosy. There are two types of leprosy – Pauci-bacillary and Multi-bacillary.
Pauci-bacillary means there is small bacteria load, and the chances here of complications and deformities are low, if discovered and treated early.
Multi-bacillary means there is a large bacteria load. If the victim has multi-bacillary leprosy, it takes a longer time to treat and if not discovered early or given the necessary treatment, could lead to complications and deformities.
The people you find at the Leper Colony in Oji River are people that sought for treatment after complications set in, and those who had developed toe, fingers, arms etc complications. There are many treated people who are also at the leper colony, but they cannot go home due to stigmatisation. Most of them had gone home but returned due to the stigma they experienced from their people – friends, relatives, etc. They had no option but to return and used the place as a settlement; that is why they are there.
Public enlightenment is important in fighting leprosy, so that people can understand that treated persons can integrate with family members without any fear of infection.