When Francisco Guilengue was growing up, he did volunteer work for his church. A priest said he would make a good doctor and Francisco took his advice. Today Dr. Guilengue (photo) is in charge of Mozambique’s national leprosy program, a position he is happy to fill because of another childhood influence.
“My grandfather had leprosy. He developed deformity of the hands and feet. He lived with us, and my father and uncle did everything to support him, especially because my grandmother predeceased him,” he said.
“Having seen leprosy in my family, I’ve always had an interest in the disease. After I became a doctor, I encountered cases in the district where I was working, and wanted to know more about treatment and prevention.”
Dr. Guilengue thinks it was this interest that led him to be chosen as leprosy program manager in 2015—that and the fact that there were not many people lining up for the job. “Leprosy is a neglected disease; there are more resources in diseases such as malaria,” he says.
He is under no illusions as to the task he has taken on. “The biggest challenge we face is that the program went down after Mozambique eliminated leprosy as a public health problem and now we are having to put it back together. Among the public, not everyone knows about leprosy and what they need to do about it. And we need to explain to patients that they must complete their treatment.”
Finding new cases and treating them early to avoid disability is Dr. Guilengue’s priority. He is focusing on three endemic provinces in the north of Mozambique—Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambezia.
“Since our budget for case finding is limited, we are looking to involve self-care groups of persons affected by leprosy. I also want to involve religious leaders, school teachers and children,” he says, noting that some schools already provide pupils with body charts to take home to check the family for signs of leprosy.
The soft-spoken Dr. Guilengue is clearly keen to get his country’s leprosy program back on track and further equip himself for the challenge. “I want to improve my knowledge of public health and of leprosy,” he says. “I want to learn from those who have worked in leprosy a long time.”