Nigeria: Covid-19 Brings Fresh Challenges to Nigeria's Leprosy-Affected

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Lagos — People affected by leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, are often stigmatised. In countries like Nigeria, many of them end up as beggars due to the psycho- and socio-economic problems they face. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought fresh challenges for them and life is getting increasingly difficult. Sam Olukoya in Lagos takes a look at how people affected by leprosy in Nigeria are faring in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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NARRATION: In Nigeria, many people affected by leprosy survive as beggars. They usually sing songs like this as they solicit for assistance. One of them, Musa Gambo, says life has changed for the worse for them since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAMBO: We have been facing problems since the Corona pandemic started. The price of food has gone up, everything is expensive, yet we cannot do any job. The money people give us as alms now is much lower than what they used to give us in the past. Some people will give you nothing and just walk away because they are facing difficult times. Some people are even angry and irritated when you beg them for money because life is tough for them. They will ask why you are disturbing them for money as if you are not aware that there is corona.


NARRATION: Musa Ibrahim arranges buckets which he uses to store water. Ibrahim who is affected by leprosy says as beggars they often face arrest.

IBRAHIM: The lockdown has been lifted and people can move about freely, but for us if we go out they will arrest us and they will not release us. They came even yesterday. It is difficult for us to go and beg for alms g because they will arrest us. Our crime is that we are begging, they said they don't want beggars, for us that is the only way we can get money to sustain ourselves. If we cannot beg for money honestly it will be difficult to feed. They did not give us jobs yet they are stopping us from looking for money, that is not good.

NARRATION: Audu Garba says people like him who are affected by leprosy have to survive as beggars due to the discrimination they face.

GARBA: Because we have leprosy, people will not patronise us if we set up a business due to the stigma. Here in Lagos anyone with leprosy who set up a business is deceiving himself because the business will not succeed. If I have money my business idea will be breeding and selling livestocks. If I have the resources for this business I will cease to be a beggar. But I don't have the resources. I cannot farm, so if I don't live as a beggar what else should I do? I cannot get loan from the bank, who will give me loan in the bank, when I don't have a farm or a house that I can use as collateral to get a loan?

NARRATION: Garba says the pandemic has increased the stigma against people affected by leprosy as many Nigerians believe they are infected by the Corona virus.

GARBA: We have been facing discrimination in the past and it has continued. It is now double discrimination with corona, because now they see us as the people who actually have Corona. I swear. It saddens me when they say we have corona. Till now they go about with that impression that we have Corona. When some people even pity you and want to give you money, they will throw it at you from a distance. Yes, it is because of the stigma that we have Corona that is why they treat us this way. They discriminate against us because they don't regard us as normal human beings.

NARRATION: Lagos based medical doctor, Kunle Ogunyemi, says once treated, people who had Hansen's disease are not contagious and can live a fairly normal life. He said misconceptions about the disease make many people think they are still contagious.

OGUNYEMI: Ordinarily when they are fully cured, they are not infectious. Perception of the public or even some health care workers unfortunately does not accommodate them at all because knowledge about it, it is not a common disease at all and because not too many people know, the tendency is still to keep them at arms length.


NARRATION: With songs like this, people affected by leprosy often appeal to society to respect the rights of vulnerable people like them. But Garba says so strong is the discrimination against them that he is not optimistic that they will get the COVID-19 vaccine which is supposed to be freely available to Nigerians.

GARBA: We are happy that there is vaccine, but it is not meant for us. If the populace are vaccinated we shall thank God, but for us, it is not a priority. If they look for us we shall take the vaccine since everyone ought to have it, but if they don't look for us, we shall not force ourselves to get it, it will be difficult for us to get the vaccine. Take the newly introduced national identification card, I don't have one, because they asked for money, I don't have money. The situation with the vaccine will be similar, they will ask for money but we don't have money.

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