Finding Hope through the Eyes of a Buruli Ulcer Patient
By Katie Pace, Marketing & Communications Officer at MAP International
It took two flights and over 24 hours to reach Ghana from Atlanta, then another flight and a 3.5 hour drive to reach Sunyani, Ghana. Sunyani is in the northwest region of Ghana and is home to nearly 300,000 people and MAP International’s headquarters in Ghana.
MAP has been working in Ghana for 7 years now and focuses on Neglected Tropical Diseases, including Leprosy, Buruli ulcer and Soil-transmitted helminthiases (worms). We also have multiple clinics and communities that we work with to treat everything from Malaria to Elephantiasis.
We’ve spent over 60 years working to provide health and hope to those in need in the developing world through medical aid and have expanded our focus to Neglected Tropical Diseases in the past 10 years.
In Ghana, MAP International partners with American Leprosy Missions and Effect:Hope to reach the largest population possible with Buruli ulcer and Leprosy awareness campaigns in order to not only stop the diseases but to prevent disability.
A few hours north of Sunyani in Kukuom we met Sarah, a 25 year old single mother with three of the cutest little boys I’ve ever seen. Our Buruli ulcer team has been working with her since late 2012 after unearthing her case while performing a case detection program with American Leprosy Missions based out of Greenville, SC.
I began receiving photos of Sarah in 2013 from our team in the field, it was hard to believe she was only 23 at the time – her expression was always disheartening and the photos of the disfigurement that Buruli ulcer had caused to her foot and arm looked excruciating.
She lived in a remote region of Ghana and her case had gone undetected since she was young causing issues with her arm and her foot to turn up like a warped piece of wood. Our team made sure she received the eight week course of antibiotics to cure her of Buruli ulcer, but her case was much more severe.
In additional to the obvious physical pain and struggles that the deformities caused, there was now a stigma surrounding her family and many in her village believed that she was cursed by a witch. Eventually her husband left, not wanting to take on the responsibility of caring for her. She was left with three young children and no source of income. Her elderly parents were the only ones willing to help and her mother searched for a way to support her daughter and grandsons.
One day her mother heard of MAP International and American Leprosy Missions work in a nearby village. Sarah received the course of antibiotics that she need to be cured of Buruli ulcer, but then there were the deformities. Our teams joined together and decided that this young vibrant woman needed a chance to have a good life and making a living for her family, so we’ve created the Project for Empowering Buruli Ulcer Related Disabled Persons, now called Sarah’s Project. Through this partnership with American Leprosy Missions and Effect:Hope we have helped Sarah to open a small mini mart in Kukuom. Our teams are training her on the items that will sell in the local community and how to manage inventory. This has given her the opportunity to work to support her family.
This week I had the privilege of meeting Sarah, I honestly didn’t recognize her. This is a very changed woman from 2012, she even looks younger – there’s hope in her eyes. We drove on a rough road to Kukuom where we expected a small ribbon cutting ceremony for her new mini mart. We were very surprised
to see the community had come out to support her with a huge celebration, there was music, dancing and even the village chiefs were there. They were not only happy for Sarah, but they were grateful that our partnership with American Leprosy Missions and Effect:Hope is allowing us to train local health workers and community health volunteers to stop Buruli ulcer and Leprosy early – preventing disability.
Our goal through this partnership is to prevent people like Sarah from getting to the point of disability, training health care workers and volunteers to recognize Buruli ulcer and Leprosy early on and end it is key. Our team is now working to find surgery options for Sarah’s foot so that someday she can lead a normal life. Through all the patients we’ve seen this week I have seen so much hope in their eyes, in Sarah’s case the change is so dramatic and I am thankful to be a part of something that provides so much health and hope to those less fortunate in the developing world.