Left to fend for themselves: Leprosy patients forgotten by authorities, families

SRINAGAR: About 200 inhabitants of the Leper Colony, located on the banks of Nigeen Lake in Lal Bazar area of Srinagar have been left by the authorities to fend for themselves. Badly needed medicines supplied to the inmates through a non-governmental organization have stopped and none from the government seems interested in their welfare.
Spread over 312 kanals of land, only 64 rooms in a dilapidated condition are available to the dwellers. The inhabitants have not received any medicine from last three years and NGOs that had been providing medicines with free life saving drugs have vanished. Construction of promised new residential quarters too has stopped.
Ghulam Mohidin Ganaie, president of Leprosy Association Kashmir told Kashmir Reader: “The drugs we consumed to cure this disease have eaten us from inside. Everyone here is suffering from one or other disease. Hypertension, thyroid disorders and diabetes are common.  But we don’t get required medicines. Till now we were surviving on the NGO’s help, but they haven’t come from last two months”, he said.
Aged inmates get mere Rs 400 as old age pension. “What would we get with it? Ganaie asks.  “Last month our colony was caught by Hepatitis C and we begged for money for treatment. No one helped us. It costs us lot of money for treatment. Everyone who was infected is still indebted,” Ganaie said.
Mohammad Amin, a Pharmacist at the Health Centre here said, “We used to get the medicine in bulk but now there is a clear shortage. We don’t have enough cotton rolls and bandage pads. Some of the patients have developed ulcers and they need to be dressed frequently.”   The inhabitants are longing for a residential Colony, which had been promised to them by the state government. Out of 64 residential quarters promised to them, only 3o have been completed so far, 14 are incomplete. Remaining are living in one story shacks without any washrooms. The dejected residents said that they have no hopes from the government as all their pleas were ignored by the concerned officials.
Six years ago, this colony was sanctioned Rs 4.25 crore for the construction of 300 permanent residential units with required facilities under Jawahar Lal Nehru National Rural Renewal Mission. But six years later, only half of the structures have been erected.
The raw material meant to construct the residential apartments is lying here and there which makes it messy whenever it rains.
People here have been living here for decades together and all these years nothing changed for them. Ghulam Mohidin  Ganaie shifted to this place in 1970 and according to him much has not changed in last forty years. “I didn’t see any change from 1970 to this point except the fact that we now get food and clothes at right time. There isn’t enough space to keep all the things in this room; we wish we could live in good conditions,” he added.
Most of the leprosy patients harbor a grudge for the society in general and their families in particular for abandoning them.
“No one comes to us, we are left all alone, with no support from our families,” said Khatooni, who was diagnosed with leprosy at 50. After being ousted from her village in Kargil, she was brought here.
According to Khatooni this is a different place separated from rest of the world. “We don’t know the world outside as neither they nor we have to do anything with each other.”
Zahoor Ahmad, a Health official explained that they  are ‘no more patients’ and are just ‘inmates’,  but the social stigma attached with the disease is not letting them to live normally. “They get everything that a person would need to spend his life. We have given them a separate health centre wherein we have sanctioned one MBBS doctor, two pharmacists and four nurses, whose only job is to take care of Leprosy patients.  They have been provided with a separate sweeper, hairdresser, washerman and barber”, he said.  “They get each and everything. They get free rice, free clothes and whatever they need.”
Chief Medical Officer Srinagar, Nazir Ahmad, when asked about the non availability of medicine said, “Everything is in process and it will be provided to them within a fortnight”.

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