Working in a leprosarium 1968-74

African sunset

I have posted before about our first day in the hospital on our first spell overseas. An introduction to Life in Africa The establishment had a large complex of programs run by a Christian mission. It was on land given by the Emperor’s daughter and it’s distinctive feature was that it was to have a large leprosarium. This was in a period where the concept for many including the government was to keep people suffering from leprosy (Hansen’s disease), certainly those with the infectious variety, apart from the general populous.

The government gave a grant to the mission to help treat 700 patients residing on the land already granted to them. Nearby there was another parcel of land given for the mission to produce food to feed the leprosy patients living on the leprosarium.

The mission took this work very seriously and expanded way beyond just keeping lepers off the streets and treating them in the relatively limited ways available at that time. The work of Drs Cochrane, Brand and Fritschi, basically in India, with their teams had made much progress but treatment was not as available nor efficient as it is today. India was much more developed. I had some time in India with Drs Cochrane and Fritschi on my way to Africa.

The local tribal language was what is now called Oromepha. The greeting was ‘Nega, fiya, urga’ roughly translated ‘hello, how are you? It’s nice to smell you.’ The last bit sounds nasty. But the verb really had broader meaning, including to sense, and I think the intent was something like ‘it’s good to sense your presence’. But because of the use of rancid butter smeared on clothing to make it waterproof, added to smokey fires in houses without chimneys, there was often a fairly powerful smell. When I had been working in the operating room where, in addition to the above, we used a lot of ether for anaesthetics, I personally collected some of the odour. Many times when I got home to greet my wife, with a loving kiss, I got told ‘You stink, go and have a shower.’

Early in our stay, I remember introducing my young son to a lovely bright young man who had come to visit me. The man knew good English. The boy greeted him politely then turned to me and said ‘Dad, do all Ethiopians smell like this?’ The guy was very gracious saying something about kids being like that everywhere!.

The compound had 2 parts. That devoted to leprosy treatment and that for general service to the surrounding community. Today I’ll write about the leprosy part of the work. The general service to the community aspects were almost as extensive! Continue reading “Working in a leprosarium 1968-74”