Call to uphold dignity of lepers

LEPROSY patient Morris Chikunga (not his real name) has clocked several years at Mutemwa Leprosy Centre in Mutoko where he is receiving treatment for the condition which has separated him from his family and normal societal life for years.


Franciscan priest Alfred Tigere (in brown robe) welcomes the Senate president Mabel Chinomona and Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda during their visit to Mutemwa Leprosy Centre with other legislators

Chikunga (70), who is one of the 38 lepers at the centre, has lost nine fingers already because of leprosy, and the only stub remaining is the right thumb.

There are visible sores all over his body, although most of them are now dry because of the treatment being administered at the centre headed by Catholic priest, Alfred Tigere.

The visit to Mutemwa Leprosy Centre by Senate president Mabel Chinomona and Clerk of Parliament Kennedy Chokuda — who last week delivered Parliament’s stockfeed donation for the piggery project at the centre —was very scary for most of us (journalists) that had never encountered lepers face to face.

One of the nurses, however, quickly dispelled our fears, explaining that leprosy was no longer contagious because the patients were already receiving treatment and could not pass it on to others.

Chinomona even greeted the leprosy patients freely, touching their hands which have been reduced to stubs because of the ailment.

“I am glad to be here again, because it is not my first visit. Actually, it is like I am visiting friends and these people are just like us, and we should not segregate them as if they are going to die,” the former Zanu PF MP for Mutoko North said as she freely mingled with the lepers.

This further gave us assurances that it was safe to mix and mingle with the lepers and we began talking to them, discussing how they ended up with leprosy.

Chikunga, who is a family man, explained that he discovered that his bodily sores could be leprosy when two of his fingers fell off.

“At first, I thought that I only had sores, but the condition became serious and two of my fingers fell off. That is when my children decided to take me to the clinic where they suspected it could be leprosy,” he recalled.

“While they were organising that I be admitted at Mutemwa, more fingers fell off until I was only left with the thumb on the right arm.”

Chikunga said he was no longer feeling the pain — except that of seclusion from his family.

“I wish I was out there meeting different people. Mutemwa Leprosy Centre is very far away from the people, but today we feel very happy that you came,” he said.

Another leper, Mavis Chiromo (not her real name), said she was happy to be at the centre where she was getting good treatment.

“The people that are taking care of us here are very loving. They even bathe us and change our clothes and bedding. The care that I am getting from Father (Alfred) Tigere makes me feel that I am human like all other people,” Chiromo said.

Tigere, the Catholic priest in charge of the institution, said some of the lepers were from Malawi and Mozambique and used to work at local mines, but were abandoned by their families after contracting leprosy.

“For me, taking care of lepers is a calling, and as a church, we are trying to remove marginalisation and discrimination of people with leprosy. We want to ensure that they feel loved. We interact very closely with them, like any other human being,” said Tigere, who belongs to the Franciscan order of Catholic priests, whose patron saint Francis of Assisi was well known for acts of mercy.

“We have no fear of contracting leprosy because these days there are different equipment that can assist us protect ourselves from getting it.”

Tigere said it was also imperative to find the families of the lepers, so that those that have fully recovered from the disease can be reunited with them.

“Some family members are now coming to look for their relatives. It is important for them to be visited by their family members. What is more important for us is to restore the dignity and humanity of the people affected by leprosy,” he said.

He said there was lack of adequate manpower as the centre only has 14 workers. Two of them are professional nurses on government payroll, while the remainder get a measly $70 per month.

Tigere said leprosy wounds did not heal easily, as they require proper leprosy medicine. The centre struggles to access adequate drugs as they survive on donations from well-wishers.

“Water is also a big challenge. We tried to put up a borehole, but the area is dry and there was not enough underground water,” he said.

Currently, Tigere said they were being supplied with Zinwa water and were sitting on an $8 000 water bill. He said the leprosy centre would be grateful if the debt was written off.

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