Persons Affected by Hansen’s Disease During Coronavirus Pandemic in Nepal
In response to the novel coronavirus, Nepal implemented a nationwide lockdown of cities from March to mid-June, disrupting the lives of citizens. The lockdown had a particularly severe impact on persons affected by Hansen’s disease, an economically vulnerable group who also face stigma and discrimination. With the measures introduced against the virus, they struggled to eat as their jobs as day-laborers dried up.
As of August 2, Nepal had reported a total of 20,750 infections, and 57 deaths. While these numbers are relatively small as a proportion of its total population of 29 million, the situation is expected to become more severe given the inability to completely limit cross-border activity with India, the country with the third-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.
Nepal is one of three countries where Sasakawa Health Foundation has begun COVID-19 response projects from June to support communities of persons affected by Hansen’s disease during the pandemic. The projects, which are being implemented with the assistance of a partner NGO on the ground and the active involvement of organizations of persons affected by Hansen’s disease, involve the provision of emergency relief supplies, advocacy activities and information dissemination. For more information on the Foundation’s response to COVID-19, click here.
Project Implementation: Nepal Leprosy Trust and Self Help Groups
Nepal Leprosy Trust operates a major leprosy services center in southeast Nepal in the Terai region that borders India. It has engaged in activities for the social and economic empowerment of persons affected by leprosy since 1977 and supports 112 self-help groups (SHGs). The SHGs are divided into four groups, which have been registered as NGOs. Around 70% of the SHGs’ members are persons affected by leprosy, with the remainder made up of persons with disabilities and those with lymphatic filariasis. For this project, SHG members are not just beneficiaries but have been playing an active role in planning, mobilization and execution.
The Project So Far
SHG members have held rallies and handed petitions to the authorities calling for emergency relief supplies for persons affected by Hansen’s disease and a free medical insurance system. During the rallies, participants observed proper social distancing and refrained from shouting.
SHG members have carried out deliveries of food supplies such as rice, beans and cooking oil, and hygiene products such as soap and masks, to beneficiaries. They have also been providing information on how to take precautions against COVID-19. One of the ward chairmen where deliveries were made expressed his appreciation in the form of a donation of 5,000 rupees to be used to support other areas.
Nepal is currently in the midst of the rainy season and the Terai region where the pilot project is taking place has seen flooding. This has made it difficult to deliver supplies, but activities have not been interrupted. To date, some 974 SHF members have received supplies of food and hygiene products.
To spread awareness about COVID-19 prevention, radio jingles are streamed 32 times a day in the Nepali and Maithili languages.NLT project staff also check on the health and situation of SHG members by phone.
For persons affected by leprosy whose daily lives have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the emergency assistance provided by the project has acted as a lifeline. At the same, the involvement of SHGs in advocating with government, asserting their rights and spreading awareness about their activities will hopefully contribute to strengthening their operational capacity.
Ultimately, if advocacy results in government assistance measures being realized, and if disseminating information about what they are doing helps to raise funds online, then it will be possible for support activities to continue after the end of the project. The sustainability of support is one of SHF’s goals, and it is in regular contact with Nepal Leprosy Trust as to how this can be achieved.
Stories about the project are also being posted on facebook by NLT.
For more information about how we support COIVD-19 aid projects, click here.