Week 6 – Leprosy

Starting to realize that the Mumbai program is much less structured than the program in Delhi.  Not necessarily a bad thing because we have the flexibility to focus on what we want.

During my 6th week, we were introduced to leprosy and the leprosy control program.  Our medical director, Dr. Bhatki, is a skin specialist who has dedicated his life to the field of leprosy.  The leprosy program in India has been pretty successful, using modern biomedicine to kill the bacteria that causes the disease.  Leprosy is a good example of a disease with many misconceptions brought on by fear and ignorance.  The deformities caused by the bacteria makes the disease seem much more dramatic than it actually is.  Leprosy is caused by a bacterium that infects human nerve tissue and only human nerve tissue.  In India, most people are immune (95%-98%) so only a small portion of the population is susceptible.  Modern drugs are so effective that one dose kills about 90% of the bacteria.  Therefore leprosy is an entirely curable disease as long as the patient keeps up with the treatment, which lasts 6-12 months.

Dr. Bhatki mentioned that leprosy and HIV/AIDS share some similarities.  HIV/AIDS is also surrounded by many misconceptions and also feared.  However, HIV/AIDS is much more subtle than leprosy and more infectious.  But Dr. Bhatki told us that we can still learn from the success of the leprosy program and apply it to HIV/AIDS.  He believes that promoting awareness and increasing knowledge are key in treating and eradicating disease.  For a large part, I can say from my experience in Delhi that the government is doing that.  Providing treatment free of cost and funding organizations to educate communities.  But India is still far from eradicating HIV/AIDS.

On Friday, we visited Dr. Bhatki’s clinic, where he not only treats patients with leprosy but also those with other skin diseases, fungal infections, etc.  I think it’s a great idea that Dr. Bhatki’s clinic is not just a leprosy referral center.  The community becomes more comfortable with leprosy and accepting of lepers the more they visit the clinic, learning that leprosy is just another disease like the other skin diseases they suffer from.


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