Portrait: Leprosy patient

Mohammed *


Leprosy is my secretm

It’s a rather sad sight: Mohammed lives all alone in the rehabilitation centre of a leprosy camp in Ogbomoso. His family lives more than a four-hour drive away in the capital Lagos, while Mohammed recovers at the camp from an operation. But there is not a hint of sadness to be seen on Mohammed's radiant face. On the contrary.

“Soon I will be able to walk normally again”, he says beaming with joy. More than two months ago, he was operated on for a foot drop, a condition which makes it very hard to lift your foot, causing great difficulty in walking. Mohammed's foot drop was caused by leprosy.

“In 1995, I noticed the first light spots on my skin, but I didn't know what it was, so I didn't pay much attention to it. But four years later, I had an open wound on my foot, without having noticed it before. I found that I had no more feeling in my leg and that I was no longer walking completely normally.”

When, one day, my father noticed the problem, he took me to the hospital. It turned out to be not just any old hospital, but a place where leprosy is treated. Apparently my father also had leprosy, but he had never told anyone about this.”

Mohammed also keeps his illness a secret. Only his wife and closest friends know about it. “To the rest I say, I've had a car accident. There is such a taboo around leprosy: I would be an outcast if the people around me found out. I am very grateful that my wife has not left me. She comes to visit me regularly with my five children, despite the long distance.”

Mohammed can go home next week, thanks to an ingenious tendon transfer operation: for this, a functioning tendon is loosened and shifted, so that this tendon can help lift the foot. Not an easy operation and one which can only be carried out at this hospital, because Ogbomoso is home to Nigeria's sole reconstructive surgeon: Doctor Isaac Amole.

Mohammed has plans for the future. “I am a teacher. Due to my illness, I was often home for three months at a time, but now I can once again devote myself to my work. I am even planning to follow a refresher course, because I want to become better at my job.” And also on the agenda for next week: a complete screening for my family. “I haven’t been considered contagious for a long time now, but we want to be on the safe side. Because the sooner you detect the disease, the better your chances of reducing the consequences.”

* The patient’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.

TEXT: Wendy Huyghe

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