Subject: Confronting leprosy

Moorabbin / Moorabbin Glen Eira Leader (Australia)

July 14, 2004 Wednesday

Confronting leprosy

by Phil Fielding

A GLEN EIRA woman is playing a part in helping doctors in East Timor care for leprosy patients.

Leprosy Mission Australia chairwoman Jenny Davis has just returned from a trip to East Timor to check on the charity's work.

She worked alongside new leprosy control officer Elsie Italia, who trains government health workers in leprosy awareness and control.

Ms Italia, a trained nurse from the Philippines, also travels around the stricken country surveying the number of Timorese people affected by the disease.

Ms Davis, a microbiologist, made the trip to discover how the mission's work was going at grass roots level after it was interrupted by conflict during the vote for independence.

"I am interested in leprosy because it is easily overlooked in a time when other diseases are more urgent and dramatic," she said.

Leprosy is an infectious disease that attacks the nerves in the hands, feet, face and ears and is first noticed through an area of numbness.

It is easily cured with antibiotics if caught early, but if untreated sores on nerve-damaged areas of the body can easily become infected, causing damage to parts of the body such as hands and feet.

Leprosy is still prevalent in more than 30 countries and 62,000 cases are diagnosed each year.

Ms Davis said the disease spread in countries such as Timor because people lived in close proximity.

"It can be passed on by coughing or sneezing but people need to be living in close contact over a period of years," she said.

The Leprosy Mission is also involved in a rehabilitation centre for people with a broad range of disabilities.

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