The main impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on persons affected by leprosy was socio-economic. The lockdowns have forced many companies to close and everyone was restricted in their freedom of movement. Many employment opportunities for people affected by leprosy were no longer available, such as working as a park guide at shopping malls that were closed or less visited. This had serious effects on people whose economic situation was difficult even before Corona. Many people affected by leprosy have to live without family support and struggle through life alone. The curfews and social distancing brought unprecedented difficulties for these people. People affected by leprosy and in need of medical treatment for wounds or reactions were turned down in hospitals when treatment was focused on Covid19 patients. As a result of an earlier pilot project, we furthermore found that many people affected by leprosy did not receive Covid-19 assistance as promised by the government due to incomplete identification documents and insufficient information about the existence of aid programs.
The project Covid Support Project for Persons Affected by Leprosy was funded by Sasakawa Health Foundation and entailed a comprehensive program to support people during the pandemic:
1. Economic development for and with people affected by leprosy by providing small loans for business development as part of a newly established cooperative of people affected by leprosy. 30 people affected by leprosy who already had small businesses that were now affected by the pandemic. The beneficiaries were given business advice and loans to restart and improve their business. Savings plans and monitored repayments ensured sustainability of the activity – the loans are ongoing and more PerMaTa members will be able to apply for loans.
2. Referral of people affected by leprosy who need medical help due to Covid-19 or due to leprosy reactions or other health problems.
Many people affected by leprosy have no access to health services due to stigma, lack of availability and accessibility of services. People with Covid19 face a severe stigma that prevents them from reporting to health care facilities. We supported a number of local referrals to the Makassar Leprosy Hospital. However, we also found that the current referral system makes it very difficult for people affected by leprosy to access health care.
3.Development and support to two new districts branches of PerMaTa: Takalar and Sinjai. Teams from the neighbouring district branches Gowa and Bulukumba identified young people affected by leprosy who were ready to form the new district teams. Training was provided and together they visited other people affected by leprosy to provide information about Covid 19 and leprosy, to build the confidence of the young teams.
4. In cases of great economic urgency food packages were provided. In a recent pilot project, we learned that a significant number of people affected by leprosy had problems ensuring regular meals for their families due to the Covid-19 crisis.