Emergency food rations and medicine have reached communities in India where severe hunger is a more imminent threat than COVID-19.
On 25 March, the same week that a lockdown was implemented in the UK, a nationwide lockdown was imposed in India in a bid to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Images of desperate migrant workers no longer able to work fleeing cities on foot for their native villages were beamed across the globe.
To date the number of coronavirus deaths reported in India remains relatively low, arguably because of the government’s prompt lockdown strategy.
Experts warn easing the restrictions too early could have catastrophic consequences.
Therefore the world’s biggest lockdown was extended by two weeks last weekend.
India is the second most populous country with a population of 1.3 billion.
With such an enormous population, social distancing is often impossible. Marginalised communities have limited access to food, healthcare and water. This leads to malnutrition and poor sanitation, the perfect conditions for leprosy to thrive. It also creates an ideal environment for the transmission of the coronavirus.
The Government of India has been working with the nation’s 36 states and territories , along with non-government organisations and civil society organisatons, to impose curfews and lockdowns to curb transmission.
National Director of The Leprosy Mission, Peter Waddup, said:
“If the coronavirus was left to sweep through India it would cause complete devastation.
“There are enormous pressures on our hospital budgets in India and these will increase as a result of COVID-19. We are raising emergency funds to keep hospitals running and to provide PPE in a bid to keep our amazing staff and patients safe during these unprecedented times.
“But tragically we are hearing from our colleagues and partners that hunger is the real threat in the communities we serve.
“Knowing that a food shortage is added to the suffering that the people affected by leprosy I have met in India already face really breaks my heart.
“The lockdown imposed on the country has meant no work and minimal movement with no public transport.
“People affected by leprosy cannot even go out to beg on the streets to feed their families. Even this most desperate means of survival is taken from them.
“At the moment we have no option but to change the focus of our work from life-changing to life-saving.”
Emergency medical aid is brought to leprosy-affected communities in Kolkata. Image copyright: The Leprosy Mission
Leprosy Mission teams and partners have distributed emergency food rations to communities, including the one pictured living by a railway line on the outskirts of Kolkata.
They are also providing masks and essential messaging on the symptoms of COVID-19, the necessity to self-isolate and importance of social distancing where possible.
Medical teams from The Leprosy Mission’s Premananda Hospital in Kolkata are touring communities providing essential health services and medicine during the lockdown.
More than half of all leprosy cases reported across the globe each year are in India.
Peter said: “India is a really special country for us as it was where The Leprosy Mission began its work almost 150 years ago.
“We pray for the people we serve in leprosy-affected communities during the toughest times they are facing right now. It is our duty that we do everything humanly possible to keep them fed and well until this dreadful pandemic subsides.”