In Suakoko: Lepers abandoned

At the Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Suakoko, Bong County, which has one of the worsening conditions of life in the country, 65 inmates are finding it hard to make ends meet.

The clattering atmosphere in this central Liberian region had offered hopes for dozens of people afflicted with contagious skin diseases that cause serious and permanent damage to the body, including loss of finger and nose after they were taken away from their families.

The Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Suakoko was set up during the regime of late President William V.S. Tubman for those who, unable to overcome the fear and pressure of patriarchal society, were taken away from their husbands, wives and children when the relationship became unbearable because of their condition.
They were being fed and treated on regular basis through a Canadian charity until the civil war broke out in late 1989.
But now the lepers complain of government’s apparent insensitivity to their plight, saying there were no visible signs of possible assistance to them.

In a recent interview at the rehabilitation center, the spokesperson of the lepers claimed that the government has apparently abandoned them to their fate, leaving them in a precarious position to eke out a living.
As a result, Mr. John Yarkpawolo lamented that about ten of their fellow inmates suffered different illness and died between 2009 and 2011. They did not have the means to buy medicine for their ailment, he said.

Despite their appalling condition of health, Mr. Yarkpawolo disclosed that the “unbearable situation” has forced most of them to engage in making gardens so as to earn a paltry amount of money for their sustenance as they await a possible assistance from elsewhere.
Prior to the civil war, he said, the lepers have had access to medical facilities and a feeding program managed by a Canadian NGO which was forced to close down during the war.

The Lepers’ spokesman sent out a clarion call for assistance, warning that if nothing was done to avert their current predicament their condition might further deteriorate.

He said their hope for reasonable survival continues to wane despite persistent calls on philanthropist organizations to come to their aid.

Apart from the lack of medicine and water at the center, he said the sanitary

situation is also bad since one of the hand pumps has been destroyed.
Mr. Yarkpawolo underscored the urgent need to rehabilitate the damaged hand pump, saying he and his fellow lepers now fetch water from nearby creeks.

He however, praised the priest of the Episcopal Church at the Cuttington University for occasionally identifying with them by distributing assortment of relief food supplies especially on occasion days.

An elderly woman Tenneh King  who have been at the center since 1973 also told reporters  that some of them are only surviving  as a  result of the assistance  they receive  from other family members.
“When I came here in 1973, things were fine with us but the situation has changed completely “   Madam King regrets.

The building housings the lepers are also in serious disrepair and there are several leakages creating discomfort for the inmates most especially during the rainy season.

Speaking on the situation, a focal person of the TB and Leprosy Control Program at the Bong County Health Team, Mr. Sumoiwou Z. Kezele acknowledged the difficulties the lepers are facing.

Mr.  Kezele confirmed that donor’s support to the county health team was only concentrated on the TB control component at the center owing to the limited funding capacity to cover leprosy patients in the county.

He however disclosed that the lepers were being provided cards to obtain regular medical treatment and plans were underway to resume regular support to the lepers.

The Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center which currently has over 65 lepers with over 150 dependents was established during the regime of President William V.S Tubman when leprosy patients were collected from around the country to undergo rehabilitation and treatment at the expense of government.
This scheme has however become inactive for several years leaving the leper patients at the center to survive at the mercy of God.

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