76% persons affected by leprosy face financial crisis during COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh: Study

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Shaporan Haque:

A study by The Leprosy Mission International Bangladesh (TLMIB) reveals that 76 percent of people affected by leprosy (PAL) in Bangladesh facing a severe financial crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The finding was disclosed at a workshop on ‘Leprosy Research Dissemination’ in the conference room at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) in Dhaka on Sunday jointly arranged by National Leprosy Program (NLP) and TLMI-B.

The study titled “An assessment of COVID-19 impact on persons affected by leprosy in Bangladesh” was conducted by TLMIB which was funded by the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation (NOREC).

Professor Dr Md Shamiul Islam, Director, Micro Bacterial Disease Control (MBDC), DGHS, presided over the meeting attended by Dr Md Enamul Haque, Deputy Director, MBDC & Manager of National Leprosy Program as the chief guest.

Salomon Sumon Halder, Country Director, TLMIB; Dr Md Shafiqul Islam and ex-deputy director MBDC & program manager, NLP; Dr Safir Uddin Ahmed, Dr Sheikh Abdul Hadi, ex-DPM, Leprosy; Dr Nayma Haque, DPM and coordinator, Leprosy; Dr Sabera Sultana, National Professional Officer, NTD, World Health Organization; Dr Adnan Rassel, DPM, training & logistics; Dr Md Sohel Rana, assistant director, leprosy; Dr Shahed Hossain, consultant scientist, icddrb among others were present at the event as special guests.

A research team under the leadership of Jiptha Boiragee, program support coordinator, TLMIB conducted the research from March 2021 to August 2021.

Source of Income Reduced
The research findings presented by Roton Malo, project officer, TLMIB, show that 26% of leprosy-affected persons had no source of income during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 47.85% of PAL had no income source for 1 to 10 months during the pandemic. Only 26.27% of PAL had regular working opportunities for survival.

Food Shortage
A total of 46.61% of families of persons affected by leprosy faced food shortage during the pandemic while 8 respondents out of 255 respondents (51% men & 49% women) said they married off their underaged girls to reduce family expenses.

The study was conducted in 17 districts from all eight divisions also reveals that 89.8 percent of people affected by leprosy could not go to the hospital for needed leprosy-related services due to movement restrictions.

Hospital Services
35.62% of PAL with leprosy-related ulcer stayed home without services during the pandemic, said Roton Malo while presenting the findings. 23.62% PAL received ulcer care at government hospitals, he added.

COVID-19 Vaccination
Until July 2021, no leprosy patients in Bangladesh were vaccinated while 43% of PAL disagreed to be vaccinated and 42% of family members of PAL opined that their PAL member does not need to be vaccinated.

Discussants at the research dissemination event emphasized mass awareness programs by NLP, partnering organizations to motivate PAL and their family members to be vaccinated to be safe from coronavirus infections.

Mental Health Status
The study found 27% of persons affected by leprosy having major depression while 5% were living with minor depression and well-being status of 49% PAL started to reduce. TLMIB research team used the Five-Wellbeing Index introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) to examine the mental health status of PAL.

Professor Dr. Md Samiul Islam, Director, MBDC, DGHS, directed the Program Manager of NLP and other officials to take necessary steps for smooth services for people affected by leprosy in Bangladesh.

Researchers of TLMIB also disclosed findings of two more medical research titled “Effectiveness of single-dose rifampicin after BCG vaccination to prevent leprosy in close contacts of patients with newly diagnosed leprosy: A cluster randomized controlled trial,” and “Patients with skin smear positive leprosy in Bangladesh are the main risk factor for leprosy development: 21-year follow-up in the household contact study (COCOA).”

Dr Abu Sufian Chowdhury, research coordinator, TLMIB and Md Khorshed Alam, project manager, TLMIB presented the findings of two medical studies.