Damien Foundation Nigeria

The stigma remains

Damien Foundation arranged for Mr. Appy to follow a course in shoe making. Since then he has made special sandals and prostheses for all the camp, but still dreams of returning to his home village. It is a step, however, which he is afraid to take, because his wife – who also lives in the camp – is an amputee, just like him. “I might get away with saying that I was in a car accident, but the fact that we both have prostheses is too suspicious. And once people suspect that it was caused by leprosy, we can forget it. We will never be accepted.”

Damien Foundation in Nigeria. Patients suffering from leprosy, and the patients’ families.
Mohammed, the teacher from Lagos, never tells anyone that he has leprosy. “It's a real stigma. My father didn't tell me that he had leprosy until he saw the first symptoms in me.” He keeps his disease secret, though he is no longer infectious. “My wife is the only person who knows. If we were to tell everyone, I would lose all my friends in next to no time.”

Blessing, a trendy young hairdresser from the capital, was also left alone when she first heard that she had contracted leprosy. Her husband abandoned her and her baby son, and her customers stayed away. “It doesn't matter how much I tell them that I'm not infectious: they don't believe it. They won't have anyone with leprosy touching their head.”

The colony in Ogbomoso has been in existence for a hundred years, and for many years people have come to it from every corner of the country. If, in those days, you discovered that you had leprosy, you took it upon yourself to get to a colony, knowing that you would never be accepted. Many people have been living there for thirty, or even fifty years, and make no plans to return home. They marry, have children, and die there. “At the very least, people don't stare at me here. You have no idea how terrible it feels to be ostracised. People used to turn their heads when they drove past the colony”, says 70-year-old Ajbenjor. “It's a bit better now, only because there is no other way. The city has expanded and now the distance to the camp is shorter.”

The same is true of the Lagos slum. It was once remote from the inhabited world, but the sprawling city has swallowed it up. But still, there is no acceptance. There are even rumours that the authorities want to get rid of the neighbourhood. Despite the proximity of the city, the residents have no contact with the ‘normal’ world. They have become so institutionalised in this urban jungle that they would be unable to cope in ordinary society. And in the neighbourhood, they would be avoided like the plague. Leprosy is no longer contagious. Just one new case has been discovered since 2016, and that was in a child.

TEXTS: Wendy Huyghe
PHOTOS: Tim Dirven @T.Dirven for Damien Foundation


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