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COVID Support for Leprosy Communities: Nigeria

Through our grant programs, Sasakawa Health Foundation is working to realize a world free from all forms of suffering associated with leprosy, or Hansen’s disease.

In 2020, a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic, life became tougher for communities of persons affected by leprosy and their families. Therefore, in addition to our existing grant programs, we added a COVID support program based on 1) responding to direct needs, 2) advocacy with the government, and 3) actively disseminating information.

Our third report comes from Nigeria.

Nigeria is located on the west coast of Africa. The continent’s most populous country—some 200 million people—is often referred to as the “Giant of Africa.”

Nigeria eliminated leprosy as a public health problem in 2000, but continues to report 3,000 to 4,000 new cases annually. In addition, stigma and discrimination remain deep-rooted, so both medical and social initiatives against the disease are needed.

Our program of support involved Purple Hope Initiative Nigeria (PHIN), an organization of persons affected by leprosy, and the German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association (GLRA) Nigeria, an NGO with a long history of leprosy work that collaborated with PHIN on this project.

Founded in October 2018, PHIN’s activities are centered on leprosy colonies in 12 states in southern Nigeria, where it focuses on helping women and children affected by leprosy because they are in a more vulnerable situation. The spread of the novel coronavirus in the southern states led to restrictions that have had a serious impact on families, including loss of livelihoods.

Responding to direct needs

Activities under the program were carried out over four months from November 2020 through February 2021. PHIN contacted colony leaders in the 12 states and delivered food packages containing rice, beans and vegetable oil, as well as hygiene products such as masks and soap, to 100 families that were in particularly difficult circumstances.

Distributing food and hygiene products, and giving education on preventing coronavirus infection (Oji River, Enugu State, Nigeria December 2020)

This support became a source of great hope for those who had lost their daily jobs and were in dire straits. In addition, since information about the coronavirus had not been reaching colony residents, PHIN regularly communicated with colony leaders and established a system to disseminate information through meetings held at each colony.

On occasion, PHIN staff traveled to colonies to hold seminars on coronavirus prevention, including the correct way to wash hands.  PHIN also provided financial support to enable five women who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic to restart their small businesses. Meanwhile, 30 children were provided with school supplies so that they could continue to attend school.

Distributing books and writing materials to children of persons affected by leprosy to enable them to continue their schooling. (February 2021, Oko Baba, Lagos state, Nigeria )

Active information dissemination

PHIN also posted photos and video of the project on Facebook. In addition, it carried out awareness-raising activities on the radio. Two persons affected by leprosy courageously went on air to talk about leprosy. They received lots of questions and comments, with one listener remarking, “This is the first time for me to learn about leprosy.”

Raising awareness of leprosy on the radio(February 2021, Enugu State, Nigeria)

This project lasted only four months but brought hope to many at a difficult time. Meanwhile, PHIN continues working on other projects as it helps persons affected by leprosy to navigate the ongoing pandemic.

Purple Hope Initiative Facebook