My name is Stephan Bontekoe, I am a medical doctor from The Netherlands, with a postgraduate degree in Tropical Medicine. Since the end of May 2016 I am working as volunteer physician at Mahelerecen, for a period of seven weeks.
Leprosy is an infectious disease that affects the skin and nerves, if the infection has enough time to create damage it can leave people with numb hands and feet and reduced eye sight. Because of the numbness of hands and feet patients are more susceptible to wounds and infections, creating a risk for ulcers and more complicated infections, which can ultimately lead to deformities, loss of limbs and social stigmatisation. The disease is caused by Mycobacterium leprae, a bacterium that is being spread from person to person via the airways and nose. It is not a very contagious disease, chances of contracting it are very small. Despite a very successful campaign by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to eradicate leprosy from the face of the earth, new people are still being infected by the disease. Albeit that the total number of leprosy patients is decreasing, both here in India and on a worldwide scale.
Mahelerecen has been operating in the Madurai area since 1991, the aim of the organisation is to provide care for leprosy patients, by giving treatment against the infection, but also for chronic complications after the treatment has been completed. Furthermore, Mahelerecen aides patients with their rehabilitation after the disease has been cured. The organisation also conducts Health Education Programmes, in order to create public awareness about this ancient, but often misunderstood disease. In addition, Mahelerecen provides case detection programmes at schools, so that the disease can be treated before it leaves permanent damage to the body. All of this is being done on a non-profit basis.
During my weeks at Mahelerecen I will be active at the clinic, treating patients for leprosy or its chronic complications, but also for non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes mellitus, which are quite common in this population. In addition, I will try to create and implement guidelines for these diseases, so that the medical care provided at Mahelerecen is up to date.