I am 45, but I know I look much older. People tell me this all the time. I used to feel carefree but the difficulties of the last few years have taken their toll on me.
I live with my wife, Margina, and 8 year old son, Khalil, in a small hut nestled beside the bank of the huge Boriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I want more for my family but after being diagnosed with leprosy we have been shunned and forced to live on the outskirts of our city.
It started six years ago, I found patches on my skin and frequently felt lightheaded. I did not know what it was. The local healers gave me remedies that did not help. Slowly my toes began to curl and it became difficult to walk. During those days, I used to sell ripe mangoes holding baskets full of them on my head, walking all over the place. But with my condition deteriorating, life had become hell. I couldn’t even walk because of ulcers on my feet and legs.
Then a Leprosy Control Assistant working with effect:hope found me and asked me to go to the clinic at Sohrawardy Hospital in Dhaka. While there I was thoroughly examined and told it was leprosy. In the beginning, I was scared and apprehensive as to what would happen to me – would I be healed or die like a beggar on the street? Out of love and concern for my family I started the one-year multi-drug therapy that was meant to cure me.
After the year things started to improve but my mobility has been badly restricted and I am almost bed-ridden. The treatment did not work fast enough to stop me from losing the middle finger of my left hand and has taken away the ability for me to close my eyelids completely. Because of this I am not able to sleep through the night and I am still struggling with ulcers.
When I returned home my landlord found out I was treated for leprosy and kicked us out. The news spread like wildfire and nobody would rent us accommodations. So we spent many days in discarded dilapidated houses on the outskirts of the city.
I have been back to DBLM Hospital in Nilphamary over seven times for ulcer care and have been given foot wear and crutches to walk. But because of the prejudice in my community and my physical appearance I have not been able to find work. I am now living my nightmare of begging in the streets, but most people just walk by.
My wife was working and could bring home one meal a day which helped but recently she delivered a stillborn baby and has become sick and debilitated. My son is no longer welcome in the school, I do not know what his future holds.
Life seems to be hanging by a thin thread attached to the moth-eaten wooden beam of our roof which can give in anytime. I am praying to God but I do not know what our future holds.
I don’t know if there is hope for me but I am hoping that by sharing my story I am able to help someone like me or my wife or my son. If we had better trained health care workers in our area or more community support I know my story would be different.
Sunday January 29th is World Leprosy Day. Help someone like Olimia today.