COVID Support for Leprosy Communities: Philippines (PGH Hansen’s Club)

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 seventh report is from the Philippines.

In 1999, a support group for persons affected by leprosy was established within the Philippines General Hospital (PGH). The PGH Hansen’s Club was the brainchild of the hospital’s dermatology department, which was responsible for treating leprosy patients. Since then, assisted by the Philippines Leprosy Mission (PLM), the club has conducted home visits, run self-reliance programs and arranged recreational activities for persons affected by Hansen’s disease and their families in the metropolitan Manila area. Currently, it has around 20 members.

Given the difficulties being faced by persons affected by leprosy and their families amid the coronavirus pandemic, we decided to provide a grant to the PGH Hansen’s Club covering the months November 2020 through February 2021. With this support, the club carried out the following activities:

1. Provision of medicine, self-care products and cash relief

Persons affected by leprosy, already in a socially vulnerable position, have faced many challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the loss of livelihoods as a result of lockdowns and other restrictions making life hard. Leaders of the PGH Hansen’s Club contacted members to ascertain what impact the lockdown was having on their households and how it was affecting their access to medical care. Based on the findings, the club decided to provide cash assistance to all members for their daily needs. In addition, it delivered medicine and self-care products to members with complications such as leg ulcers who were unable to visit a clinic or hospital and arranged online consultations.

Supplies purchased with the SHF grant.

2. Help hotline established

A help hotline was set up by PGH Hansen’s Club members to answer questions about leprosy and discuss any mental health concerns arising from the pandemic.

The hotline, which was initially for PGH Hansen’s Club members, was later made accessible to another group of persons affected by leprosy. It continues to operate as a legacy of the grant project and is now open to the general public.

“Because we’ve had the disease, we have experiences that we can share via this hotline,” said one of the club’s leaders.

For now, the pandemic continues to grip the Philippines. As long as it lasts, organizations such as the PGH Hansen’s Club will continue to work with other stakeholders to serve their communities as best they can.