Over 40 healed leprosy patients of the Mbala Health Centre in Doume, Upper Nyong Division of the East Region, on Sunday, January 27, 2013 received drugs, food and basic necessities sent by the First Lady, Mrs Chantal Biya through a delegation of the Circle of Friends of Cameroon (CERAC). Presided over by the Governor of the East Region, Samuel Dieudonné Ivaha Diboua, the handover ceremony was a major highlight of the commemoration of the 60th World Leprosy Day in Doume, situated some 270 km from Yaounde, where the Mbala Health Centre has scored successes in containing the threat of leprosy.
Presenting the Mbala Health Centre to the CERAC delegation headed by Mrs Isabelle Tokpanou, the Medical Head, Koa Elie Gilles, said the Centre was created in 1934 as a Leprosy Centre which handled cases till 2007 when it was transformed into a health centre to receive patients suffering from other ailments. Since the 1930s, several leprosy patients have received treatment and care and returned to their families or villages. However, the Centre still hosts just above 40 former leprosy patients who have been physically affected by the disease and whose scars and ailments need treatment beyond what the Centre can offer. "This is a New Year gift from the First Lady. We further request to have qualified and specialised staff," Koa Elie Gilles pleaded with members of the CERAC delegation.
Operating in Doume Council that is inhabited by over 20,000 people, the Mbala Health Centre is implementing a leprosy eradication strategy that lays emphasis on active screening among the population for signs of leprosy and the treatment of diagnosed patients before they get maimed and disfigured by the disease.
As for patients already disfigured and living at the Mbala Health Centre, officials said Chantal Biya's gift was timely to ensure that free treatment is pursued to improve on the livelihoods of former patients and speed up their reintegration into the community. However, the reintegration of former leprosy patients faces the challenge of stigmatisation and social exclusion. Hence, the East Regional Delegate for Health, Dr Robert Bidjang called for change of attitude on the part of the public, while thanking CERAC and its founding President for concretising the health ministry's goal to give back dignity to the former patients.
In the same vein, he lauded efforts by the non-governmental organisation, FAIR-MED, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and National Programme for Yaws, Leishmaniasis, Leprosy and Buruli Ulcer Control to provide care to former leprosy patients. He said the theme for the 60th World Leprosy Day, "Leprosy is still with us: Let's remobilise to conquer it," was a call to redouble efforts to ease detection and fight stigmatisation. "From 25 leprosy centres in 2005, five have become health centres while 14 have been transformed into villages," he underscored.