By Linda Todd

FOR more than two decades working for The Leprosy Mission Scotland I have dedicated my life to the fight against the cruel disease that is leprosy, wrongly perceived as highly infectious. As a result, people with the disease have been driven from their homes by their own families and abandoned by society.

We’re all keenly aware that we’re living in unprecedented times likened to war. None of us could have predicted the need for social isolation and lockdown to try to limit the spread of a pandemic.

Thanks to the internet the Western world has the ability to communicate and stay connected in the midst of a global crisis. Others are not so fortunate.

Nagammal, a woman from Tamil Nadu, was found by my colleagues in The Leprosy Mission India. She was crawling amidst dirt in a goat shed with ulcerated knees and elbows. Just 20 years of age when the first signs of leprosy began to appear – pale patches of skin on her face – by the time she was diagnosed with the disease, her hands and feet had already started to become deformed. Her husband, who was her rock when their baby son died, left. Nagammal’s family saw her as a burden and she ended up alone, living like an animal, where she was discovered. She was taken to one of the charity’s hospitals where she was cured of the disease. Today her life is transformed.

Reconstructive surgery on her forearm has given her the ability to hold a spoon and cook independently. She has received a wheelchair so she can move around. This independence has brought her new confidence and dignity. Custom, made-to measure footwear protect her feet from injuries and infections.

Help for people like Nagammal is reliant on the generosity of people like us. The Leprosy Mission was established in Scotland 1874. Our country has, therefore, a long history of working towards a world free of leprosy and providing vital funds for limb and life-saving treatments for people with the condition.

One thing that hasn’t changed over more than a century is the generosity of Scots. The kindness and community spirit being displayed at the moment, as people volunteer their services of behalf of vulnerable neighbours, is heart-warming but not out of character. While, we’re all familiar with the image of the stereotypical stingy Scot, in reality we can rise to the occasion.

At the end of last year my organisation embarked upon a new fundraising campaign to intensify efforts to spot, treat and stop the spread of leprosy. The money raised is going towards the running of leprosy hospitals in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tanzania, which includes the employment of key medical staff; it’s also enabling teenagers treated for the disease to attend vocational training – from courses on car mechanics to computing to altering garments – which will lead to jobs.

For all of this crucial work to continue we need support. We have a number of fundraising activities under way but owing to Covid-19 have had to end face-to-face fundraising which was reaping, very encouraging, rewards. We are not the only organisation concerned about the effect of the current climate on desperately needed donations. However, we are the largest and oldest Scottish charity contributing essential finances to end leprosy, a singularly horrific disease. Please don’t let the gains we have made be lost.

Linda Todd is Chief Executive, The Leprosy Mission Scotland