LEPROSY CENTRE, BANGALORE, INDIA

March, 2016

There are about 4m people in India with leprosy, a far larger number than any other country. The disease retains a powerful stigma in India despite the fact that it is eminently treatable. Those afflicted with it often separate themselves from their families and live alone; others are convinced they are being punished for committing some offence against god or nature. 

The Sunmanahalli Leprosy Centre, on the outskirts of Bangalore, is treating about 120 leprosy patients as well as HIV patients and others with disabilities. It is run by the Reverend Peter D'Souza, an urbane man who admits that, as a child growing up in rural India, he entertained many common prejudices against those with leprosy. Once, he tells me, he bought an apple from a street stall and took a bite. When he realised the vendor had leprosy he ran home and made himself vomit. "Now imagine," he says. "I am running a leprosy centre".

Leprosy is a chronic, progressive bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It mostly affects the nerves of the extremities, the lining of the nose, and the upper respiratory tract. The obvious signs are skin sores, nerve damage and weakened muscles. If it is left untreated it can cause severe disfigurement and significant disability.

Despite its dreadful reputation, leprosy is not hugely infectious and is relatively easily treated via multiple drug therapy. It is spread in the mucus of an infected person, so contraction is usually via close, repeated contact with someone who is coughing or sneezing. 

Sumanahalli has treated more than 4000 people with leprosy and some former patients still work at the centre. Others live in a small community on the sprawling site and there are several couples who met while undergoing treatment at the centre. 

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

A room at the Sumanhalli leprosy centre in Bangalore, India

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

A former patient in the centre's women's quarters

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

A man blinded by leprosy in the men's quarters of the centre

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

A young woman in the women's quarters of the centre

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

The young woman's rudimentary prosthetics sit by her bed.

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

Two older men, former patients of the centre, in their room in the men's quarters

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

A former leprosy patient in the women's quarters

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

Two young men who have been successfully treated and are now being placed into work.

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

Candles in the workshop. Former patients make them and they are sold to raise funds for the centre

Sumanahalli Leprosy Centre

The children of former patients who now live in the grounds of the Sumanahalli centre