We don’t have ‘leper’ colonies’ anymore but, a lot needs to be done. Bombay Leprosy Project is one more NGO working in this area
The injustice perpetrated against leprosy patients—even by the staff at hospitals where they were treated—left a deep imprint on the mind of Dr Ramaswamy Ganapati, an unusually compassionate doctor.
Around 1976, he decided to establish an independent NGO (non-government organisation) that started work to complement scientific research and high-quality treatment, as well as multi-drug therapy (MDT) programme, on which Dr Ganapati was already working. This led to the creation of the Bombay Leprosy Project (BLP) which has continued to flourish even after his death in 2011. Dr Ramaswamy Ganapati was honoured with a Padma Shri for his work among leprosy patients in 1983.
BLP is an internationally recognised NGO which works towards improving the quality of life of leprosy patients. The organisation has been working tirelessly in implementing the policies of National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) and assisting the government in its efforts. “Our approach has been to work directly in the community rather than undertake hospital-based work for diagnosis and treatment of leprosy. The advantage of a community approach is that leprosy patients continue to live with their families rather than being isolated and ostracised by the society,” says Parul Negi, a senior employee of BLP.
Apart from diagnosis and treatment of patients, BLP has been carrying out operational and technical research in the field of leprosy. BLP practises several field-oriented concepts in chemotherapy, disability care, rehabilitation and medical education. BLP has documented its observations through nearly 300 scientific papers published in reputed national and international journals.
BPL has successfully reached 1.95 million people, of whom 60% are from the slums of Dharavi and some municipal wards of Mumbai. It has been able to support the care and cure of over 35,000 patients and helped another 2,500 patients to avoid disabilities that are a part of the disease. It has helped 300 leprosy patients and physically challenged persons through its integrated rehabilitation programme.
It is to the credit of organisations like BPL that leprosy has been largely controlled. In fact, on 31 December 2005, the government declared that leprosy has been ‘eliminated’ from the country. However, a small proportion of the population infected several years earlier will develop clinical disease resulting in the occurrence of new cases, including smear positive cases.
Ms Negi says, “Over the years the prevalence of leprosy has declined drastically with the implementation of MDT strategy. But treatment of leprosy patients with clinical problems and disabilities caused by nerve damage still remains a big challenge before the nation today. This is mainly due to the lack of services by the experts in this field.” BLP provides services for prevention and care of deformity for patients including aids and appliances, like splints, finger loops, dressing kits, etc, under the guidance from physiotherapists and paramedical staff. For the past three decades, BLP has also been fighting for the human rights of the persons affected with leprosy and other related diseases.
BLP is running peripheral referral leprosy clinics at several locations in Mumbai including at Bhabha Hospital, Bandra, Bhabha Urban Health Centre, Dharavi, JJ Hospital and BDD Chawl, Worli. It has a mobile unit that goes to the rural areas adjoining Mumbai once a week to reach the services to more leprosy patients.
Ms Negi confesses, “As regards financial resources, there is no single donor to support our entire leprosy relief activities. We, therefore, have to raise donations from multiple sources and pool the funds to sustain the activities.” Donations are exempt from income tax under Section 80G (1) of the Income-Tax Act, 1961; readers are welcome to contribute to the cause.
Bombay Leprosy Project
11 VN Purav Marg, Sion-Chunabhatti,