Pain in soul kills leprosy patients faster

Published: 30/05/2011 05:00



unfortunate victims of leprosy continue to be ostracised by society, leaving
them with a debilitating disease and no one to turn to.

Dr Vu Tuan Anh is
honoured as one of the 80 most outstanding young doctors nationwide by the Viet
Nam Youth Union and Young Doctors Association. The doctor left his home 1,000 km
away to help and treat patients suffering from leprosy. — File Photo

Vu Tuan
Anh, deputy director of the Quy Hoa National Leprosy Dermatology Hospital shared
his concerns about the patients for whom he left his home 1,000km away to help,
when all others refused 14 years ago.

“At that
time, most people, including doctors, were still afraid of the disease,”
explained Anh.

According to the World Health Organisation, leprosy is a chronic disease caused
by the bacteria Mycobacterium Leprae. Official figures showed that there were
more than 213,000 new cases, mainly in Asia and Africa, reported in 2009,
falling from approximately 249,000 in 2008. The bacteria multiplies very slowly,
and the incubation period for the disease is about five years, and symptoms can
take as long as 20 years to appear. Leprosy is not highly infectious, but is
transmitted via droplets from the nose and mouth during close and frequent
contact. Untreated, leprosy can cause progressive and permanent damage to the
skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.

In Viet
Nam, there are 3,500 leprosy patients, according to data from the National
Dermatology Hospital.

Only the heart can heal

Anh was
born in the northern province of Nam Dinh. He left at the age of 24, without
telling his family where he was going.

“It is
common for people to be scared of the disease, because many sufferers have lost
their hands, legs or eyes, and have facial deformities,” he said.

remember how I had to hide my fear the first time I came into direct contact
with them. What I had learnt about the disease was from books but what I saw was
real. That helped to draw me closer to them, and strengthen my desire to help
them,” he added.

confided that although there had been a lot of support, there was still a lot of
discrimination. “Most patients are poor and unable to work, so they have to rely
on others, but most people are too scared to help them,” he said.

In some
cases, patients were abandoned by their own children. That pain can kill faster
than the disease itself, Anh said.

In such
cases, hospital staff who are both their carers and friends are the ones that
the patients share their happiness and their sadness with.

“We have
nearly 500 beds for leprosy patients in the central and central highlands
region, but I worry there is a lack of doctors,” Anh said.

Just as
14 years ago, doctors are reluctant to work with leprosy patients.

We have
40 in total, and half of them were trained as physicians. With about 250 nurses,
we have nearly 300 staff working in the hospital, but we need at least double
that to treat not only leprosy patients, but those suffering from other
dermatological ailments, he calculated.

goes by so quickly, but people’s attitudes towards leprosy tend to change
slowly, despite the large amount of money the State spends on fighting the

2000, under the national programme for anti-leprosy, we have been carrying out a
community-based treatment model. At first, local people were unwilling to
listen, but gradually, we were able to educate them about the disease, Anh said.

be afraid to come into contact with patients, because it is very rarely
transmitted,” said the doctor, adding that neither he or his staff had been

organise trips to remote areas in the central highlands area to help sufferers,
offer health checks and provide free medicine for the ethnic people of Ninh
Thuan, Kon Tum, Gia Lai and Binh Dinh, where the disease is most common.

distribute leaflets in different ethnic languages to try and educate people
about the disease and reduce discrimination,” he explained.

“We have
a beautiful beach here, and welcome all visitors to our hospital. The patients
seem happier when they are integrating with people from the outside world who
understand about the disease.

“We also
hold courses to train foreigners about the disease, because in many countries,
it has been eradicated, and people are unaware of its existence.”

I think
such activities will not only strengthen international relations, but also help
reduce domestic discrimination, by showing locals that foreigners are not afraid
of the disease,” Anh said.

Why I am here?

“I am a
doctor on a mission to treat leprosy. Doctors and patients in cities may form a
loose relationship, but here, we are their friends and benefactors.

no longer ask me whether I am afraid of the disease, because they can see that I
have already married a local woman and have two beautiful kids here. What else
could I need if I find happiness helping my patients,” Anh said.

Nam News

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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