Today’s guest is Solomon Tibebe. He is a clinical nurse by profession. He had served in ALERT Hospital for forty solid years. The clinical nurse was in the habit of providing expert advice related to leprosy for people living with the disease. He is considered by many as ambassador for leprosy elimination. All his patients love him with all their hearts. Above and beyond, nothing makes him happier than helping his patients from time to time. He offered a range of trainings with regard to the disease without charge. He successfully had served in various capacities in the hospital. All the time, he gives priority to his patients for he feels affection to his profession. He is so committed to his work. He teaches his patients about leprosy repeatedly. In concert with people affected by leprosy, he is the founder of Self-Care groups in ALERT Hospital. More to the point, he had been patrolling in various rural areas of the country with the purpose of teaching people about the inside out of leprosy.
With his healing hands, he had taken care of patients, examined, taught and other related aspects in the hospital. He had taken various courses related to leprosy or Hansen’s disease. He had got himself involved in awareness raising campaigns on the subject of leprosy quite a lot of times. He was also constantly sencitizing people living with leprosy with the dos and don’ts of the disease. Aside from teaching them over and over again, he was advising them to go to health centers. He happily helped people living with leprosy and washed patients’ wound time and again. To cut a long story short, he had played a major role in changing the lives of quite a lot of people living with leprosy.
The Ethiopian Herald had a short stay with Solomon Tibebe with a view to familiarizing his professional life with readers. He had touched upon a number of issues revolving around leprosy, which is commonly known as Hansen’s disease.
What is all about leprosy?
To begin with, leprosy is commonly known as Hansen’s disease. It is an unhurried but potentially demoralizing one. The disease is named after Armauer Hansen, the Norwegian doctor who first became aware of the bacteria that causes the disease. The disease for the most part affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, the eyes and all that. Leprosy is curable with no trouble. Treatment in the early stages can put a stop to disability. More often than not, its transmission is high at some stage in close and recurrent contacts with infected persons . Leprosy/ Hansen’s disease is one of the oldest diseases that affect millions of people around the globe. It is caused by mycobacterium leprous and spread by means of droplets from nose to mouth. Early treatment averts most disabilities. Unless one goes to see a doctor at the right time, it can cause progressive and undeviating harm to the skin, limbs, eyes and what have you.
By the same token, leprosy is a public health problem that forcefully has an effect on the entire aspects of life of victims as a result of the stigma or erroneous conception of people towards the disease. Some people accept as true that leprosy is a hereditary disease. They as well think that leprosy cannot be cured for the reason that the disease is a curse from God. By the way, the disease can have an effect on the nose and the eyes too. Early symptoms of leprosy consist of light patches on the skin. In reality, when nerves on our arm are upset, part of our hands grows to be numb. More to the point, small muscles grow to be paralyzed making possible the curling of the fingers and thumb. At this moment in time, Hansen's disease/ leprosy remains a public health predicament in various parts of the world. The disease still causes earth-shattering apprehension and stigma, which can hamper control strategies of this curable disease.
What are the major causes of leprosy?
Well, the correct mechanism of transmission of leprosy/Hansen's disease is not well known that much. Above all, the diagnosis of the disease is clinical. As I have tried to mention so far, the cause of the ailment is Mycobacterium leprae, an obligate intracellular bacillus. It is a chronic infection. Mostly, it attacks the peripheral nerves, the skin and other parts of the body. With respect to the disease, the most widely held belief is that leprosy was transmitted by physical contact with infected individual. Besides, some people accept as true that the possibility of transmission of the disease is by respiratory ground. The foremost warning sign of leprosy incorporate muscle limitation, lack of feeling in the hands, arms, feet, and legs, among others.
When was the treatment of leprosy started in Ethiopia?
The ALERT hospital embarked on giving service more than a few decades ago. It has been rendering successful service to this point. People who come from various corner of the country have been getting self help from the hospital. The good thing is, people on familiar terms with the disease do not bat their eyes to go to various health centers in a little while. Right from the start, ALERT Hospital has unreservedly been providing leprosy training for medical students apart from engaging itself in several medical services delivery and improving its internal infrastructure. It as well is saving the lives of several people time and again. The commitment of employees is still there. They all are ready to help patients. The working environment of the hospital is really very interesting. It is indescribable.
A lot of well-known medical doctors who had played a major role in the history of the hospital had retired while some of them departed this life as a consequence of natural causes. Without any exaggeration, ALERT Hospital would not have reached where it is today not propped up by the concerted efforts of all. In the same way, the hospital is giving due weight and attention to HIV and AIDS patients. For the first time, antiretrovirals: HIV and AIDS Drugs have been started in this historic hospital. It still is saving the lives of several people over and over again. Most HIV and AIDS patients want to take antiretrovirals: HIV and AIDS Drugs from our hospital. The hospital has engaged itself in various programs.
How is the awareness level of the people?
Though the desired goal has not been achieved yet, a lot of awareness activities have been carried out in this regard. A lot remains to bridge gaps concerning the diseases. As far as I am concerned, we cannot say that we have controlled the disease. We observe new cases every so often. The awareness level of people makes patients with leprosy detach themselves from the community. All the time, they live under the feet of fear. They cannot find a person who could convince them that the disease can easily be cured.
Sadly, most people associate the cause of leprosy with the curse of God, evil spirit and other related aspects. From time to time, people living with leprosy distance themselves from the general public. Furthermore, they belittle themselves time and again. The other thing is because of fear of stigma, they do not want their secret to be revealed. People living with leprosy are on familiar terms with the level of people’s understanding towards the disease. They do not consider the fact that all people are one and the same. Nobody knows the fact that the disease could be cured easily.
How does leprosy spread?
Well, Hansen’s disease spreads through contact with the mucus of an infected person. This mostly takes place when the infected person sneezes or coughs. In fact, the disease is not extremely infectious. More often than not, repeated contact with an untreated person may lead to leprosy. If truth be told, the bacteria make a replica at a snail's pace. The symptom may not come into sight for quite a lot of years. If people with Hansen’s disease are treated or get the treatment at the appointed hour as it should be, they will be exposed to disability or physical impairment.
Normally, leprosy is spread through droplets from the nose to mouth. If proper care is not taken, the disease could be transmitted from an infectious person to a healthy one. The causes of the disease are attached to myths, superstitions and false conceptions of people about the disease. Mostly, the disease is considered to have natural as well as super natural cause. People with leprosy could not transmit the germ for the reason that merely a certain proportion of patients could transmit the disease. At this point in time, leprosy control has been notably improving though new cases are observed.
What is your take on the social exclusion people towards people living with leprosy?
To the best of my knowledge, a lot remains to be done with a view to changing the attitude of people towards the disease. If truth be told, it is easier said than done to change the attitude of the people towards the disease. Most people with the disease are not respected. They are outcast. If people had known the fact that the disease could be cured without difficulty, they would not have acted that way. We have made an effort to change the attitude of the people yet. It is difficult to change
At the present time, people living with Hansen’s disease are being outcast. Wretchedly, they distance themselves from the general public. To the best of my knowledge, the problem is the outcome of lack of normative integration, low degree of social participation, material deprivation, and insufficient access to social rights. Usually, people living with leprosy are marginalized and stigmatized as people accept as true that the cause of leprosy is a curse. To the surprise of many, whatever their education background may be, most people have the same feelings, ideas and thoughts about the disease. Some people think that the disease is hereditary. Most people with Hansen’s disease still face predicament. Much has not been done to get to the bottom of the problem in this regard. Sadly, most people believe that the disease is infectious and hereditary.
Leprosy is considered as hereditary and a curse of God. In the past, marriage with leprosy affected people was not allowed. Furthermore, a lot had been written pertaining to the disease over and over again. For the love of distancing themselves from the community, people living with leprosy resort to traditional medicine. They do not want to see a doctor considering the misconception of people towards the disease.
What will happen if infected people with leprosy do not see a doctor almost immediately?
If people living with leprosy go to a nearby hospital, it is possible to arrest the disease as it is a curable one. The sooner the better. Unless people living with leprosy go to see a doctor, they will end up losing many things in life. A case in point, late diagnosis and treatment can lead patients to serious complications such as hair loss, mutilation, muscle limitation, undeviating nerve break in the arms as well as legs. Furthermore, delayed diagnosis may end up causing incapability to bring into play the hands and feet, unmitigated nasal clogging, nosebleeds and what not.
BY ADDISALEM MULAT