Indonesia's leprosy villages get help

fanlce Tai
For The Sunday Times

ostracised, they prefer to live with other leprosy sufferers, he explained.
From afar, Sitanala village resembles an ordinary kampung

like any other. But a makeshift fence of steel and wood separates it from the next kampung. Sitanala residents say it was built by villagers from the

neighbouring kampung
ed.

as

they were afraid of being infectIndeed, Sitanala is a self-contained village, with its own grocery shopsand food stalls lining the dirty streets. Some resi-

ln Jakarta Ten years ago, Mr Adi Yosep was diagnosed with leprosy, a. disease which attacks the skin and nerves. He was still

work as seamstresses, selling
clothing to neighbours. Along the lanes behind the rows of semi-detached, single-storey houses, villagers can

dents grow their own crops and rear animals; while others

studying at. university when white

bumps appeared all over his body. "It was a dark period in my life, and some friends kept their distance," said Mr Adi, now 32. To earn money to pay for the antibiotics he had to take, he worked as a laboratory assistant on campus after class. A year later, he was cured. All that is left of his brush with the disease - which can lead to loss of sensation and paralysis in the long run - are a few white patches on his skin and the occasional pain in his joints. But the experience - and the memory of the pain it brought - inspired Mr Adi to start two organisations for leprosy sufferers to help them cope with the disease. According to the World Health Organisation, 21.,538 Indonesians were suffering ftom the disease last year, putting Indonesia just behind India and Brazil in the number of sufferers worldwide. Over the past decade, Indonesia has seen more than 15,000 new cases surfacing each year, but the maiority recover fully on receiving prompt Ueatment. Last year, however, the numbers were a, little higher - 1,7,260 cases - of which around 10 per cent were patients below the age of 15. Indonesia's geography makes it difficult to control the spread of the disease.

be seen ftyrng keropok (crackers) or assembling

tic limbs that they sell within
the community.

artificial plas-

According to pastor Ruben Hatumena, who is from the ondo not have proper jobs. The 55-year-old himself had

ly church in the village, about 60 per cent ofits 885 residents
Singaporean volunteer Ong Siong Kai talk to a leprosy sufferer at Sitanala Leprosy Hospital.

leprosy
cured.

but has since

been

plies and channel help to people living in remote areas and the mountains," said Dr Iwan Muliono, director of the Health Ministry's leprosy control programme. quarantine people affected by leprosy in colonies or settlements. While the practice ended a decade ago, today there are

In the past, the government would

still 45 colonies, in Sumatra and

where former sufferers still live. Sitanala village, the largest colony in Indonesia in the satellite city of Tangerang, just outside Jakarta, is home to around 1,000 leprosy sufferers and their families. The colonies, said Dr lwan, are mostly filled with older people who could not b-e cured back then because treatment was

Java,

Singaporeanvolunteer Ong Siong Kai, 66, has been helping out in Sitanala for I the past two years, preaching at the local church and donating to the villagers. I ' "The widows and single women are especially pitiable, since they can't do hard I labour. jobs, yet have no partner to help I them," he said. Activists and doctors believe that with Indonesia's health care improving and medicines being more readily available, most leprosy sufferers can continue liv- I ing at home with their families. I
one started by Mr Adi are also on hand to help, providing leprosy sufferers with the

r

\on-governmental groups like the I

'

"It is hard to transport medical

not available.
Severely disabled by the disease and

sup-

funds and know-how to set up small chicken-rearing sheds behind their homes, for example, or teaching them
how to care for their wounds. Said Pastor Ruben: 'llt wasn't easy at u all, yet they managed to bring up darigh-;
ters who have since graduated from medical school and are now about to become

'

!

doctors.
here."

I

watched them do this right

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