Skin deep: A stigmatized sickness in Nepal

By Calla Kessler

Although many assume leprosy is an ancient disease restricted to biblical times, it is still rampant in Southeast Asia. The lack of vaccinations, malnutrition and poor living conditions create breeding grounds for this illness.

I spent my time in Nepal working with the leprosy patients of Anandaban Hospital. Before visiting the hospital, I knew little about leprosy. I knew historically people with leprosy have been ostracized from society because they were viewed as unclean and cursed. I quickly learned that my basic understanding wasn’t entirely misplaced. Leprosy remains a stigmatized disease. In the Southeast Asian culture, having leprosy is considered bad karma or punishment for wrongdoings in a past life, as Hindus believe in reincarnation.

Even after people are cured, the physical effects of the disease remain apparent, leaving the patient marked for life. With sores on their skin, missing appendages or sunken-in noses, the victims of leprosy face discrimination and exclusion for the remainder of their lives. Their external appearances leave them vulnerable to the judgments of their communities back home.

Leprosy extends beyond a physical ailment; it becomes a social issue because of the history attached to the disease. I hope through my story you can begin to know the patients and their struggles and be reminded of their humanity.

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