On his latest visit to Indonesia, the Goodwill Ambassador takes part in radio and TV phone-in programs as part of his mission to raise awareness of leprosy.
Following my visit to Indonesia in July, I made a further trip in November, travelling via Jakarta to Gorontalo Province on the island of Sulawesi.
Indonesia reported 16,826 new cases of leprosy in 2016. It achieved the elimination of leprosy as a public health problem in 2000. In recent years, however, annual new case numbers have remained fairly constant. Of its 34 provinces, 12 have yet to eliminate leprosy. One of these is Gorontalo Province.*
On my first morning in Gorontalo, I participated in a radio phone-in show. Joining me were Dr. Darmiyanty Yahya, head of the provincial health department, and Al Qadri, the vice president of PerMaTa, an organization of persons affected by leprosy.
Dr. Yahya told listeners about the leprosy situation in the province. I talked about the world situation from my perspective as WHO Goodwill Ambassador, and Al Qadri, who developed leprosy as a young boy (see Human Story, p.4) spoke about his personal experience of the disease. Our main point was this: “Don’t be afraid. If you discover a patch on your skin, promptly go and see a doctor. Treatment is free and you will be cured.”
|Taking part in the morning phone-in show on Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI)|
|Schoolchildren read up on leprosy.|
We fielded quite a few questions, such as “Can I catch leprosy by eating a meal with a leprosy patient?” The questions brought home to me the misapprehensions that persist about the disease. At the same time, I appreciated the format of the program, with the chance to hear directly from listeners and address their concerns.
After the radio broadcast I attended the first of two advocacy meeting organized by the health department. The first was a provincial-level meeting attended by around 20 representatives from key administrative departments including police, social welfare, religious affairs, military, finance and development. Afterward, I met with Vice Governor Dr. Drs. H. Idris Rahim.
In the afternoon I visited Totokabila hospital in Bone Bolango Regency. It was originally an armory, built by the Japanese military in 1942, and later used as a leprosy hospital. Today it serves as a regional general hospital.
During its days as a leprosy hospital, residential accommodation was built for those unable to return home after treatment because of stigma. A community of people affected and their families still lives here today. I greeted them warmly and shook their hands, to underline to the reporters covering my visit that there is nothing to fear. To support themselves, the community farms and makes charcoal braziers for a living.
That evening, I took part in a live broadcast on the television channel TVRI. Once again, we fielded questions from the public, including “What do I do if I get leprosy?” and “If someone with leprosy becomes pregnant, is the child affected?”
The next day I attended a leprosy awareness event at Limboto elementary school. About 200 pupils took part. The main purpose was to encourage early detection and healthy habits, including hand washing. “You may have heard from your parents that leprosy is a frightening disease. Go home and tell them it’s curable,” I said to the students. “We promise!” they replied.
I also visited Limboto health center, where I had the chance to talk with several persons affected by leprosy. Hearing there were several more persons affected living nearby, I paid them a short visit.
I met a woman with three children who had just moved to the area. She had delayed seeking treatment and exhibited signs of the disease. I also spoke to a grandmother and her grandson. The grandmother had stopped taking her medicine and her symptoms were returning. I asked her grandson to make sure his grandmother resumed her treatment to be fully cured.
After this I attended a regency-level advocacy meeting. Once again, the health department had brought together a broad cross-section of bureau heads to promote awareness and build cooperation.
|Meeting with Jakarta Governor Anies Rasyid Baswedan|
Returning to Jakarta, I had a meeting with Governor Anies Rasyid Baswedan to seek his cooperation on anti-leprosy activities. I was able to introduce PerMaTa Chairman Paulus Manek and Vice-Chairman Al Qadri, who had the opportunity to speak directly with the governor. The meeting went well and received a lot of media coverage, which is essential to raising awareness and getting across the messages about leprosy that people need to hear.
I also paid a courtesy call on Vice President Jusuf Kalla, who is from Sulawesi. I told him about my visit and said that I hoped to be a frequent visitor to Indonesia in support of its ongoing efforts against the disease.
Thanks to the radio and TV phone-ins, I left Indonesia with a better understanding of the kinds of questions and concerns local people have about leprosy, and I would like to do more such outreach. In addition, seeing the participation of a person affected by leprosy in the advocacy programs organized by the health department in Gorontalo, I am more convinced than ever that it will take the joint efforts of all stakeholders and the involvement of the whole community if leprosy and the discrimination it causes are to be defeated.
* In 2016, Gorontalo reported 177 new cases of leprosy. Of these, 6% had Grade II disability, and 6% were children.