Leprosy Mission opens Covid-19 isolation ward in the Himalayas

The new isolation unit at Anandaban Hospital will treat Covid-19 patients.(Photo: The Leprosy Mission)

The Leprosy Mission has opened a new Covid-19 isolation ward in the Himalayas. 

The 10-bed unit has been made possible by a £200,000 grant from the UK Government and can care for up to 230 critically ill patients over the next six months. 

The facility is an extension of the Leprosy Mission-run Anandaban Hospital in Nepal.  The hospital treats leprosy sufferers but it also been called upon to provide critical care in times of emergency, like the devastating 2015 earthquake that killed 9,000 people. 

The grant from the British Government will provide Covid equipment like PPE and respirators, and cover the salaries of three doctors, seven nurses and an ambulance driver.

Additional projects to be funded by the grant include education campaigns around hygiene and social distancing in remote mountain communities, and the distribution of emergency food and sanitation packs for those who have lost income due to lockdowns. 

Heather Saranne, Programmes Officer for Nepal at The Leprosy Mission, said: "There are many parallels between leprosy and Covid-19.

"Both disproportionally affect people with weakened immune systems, residing in poor living conditions. Tragically, as a result of ignorance and fear, they are both stigmatised diseases in Nepal.

"We are trying to combat this through a large-scale awareness campaign. We have radio adverts going out with the message that leprosy is entirely treatable.

"The campaign encourages people to seek treatment when they suspect they have the early signs of leprosy. Crucially this is before they develop life-long disabilities, including blindness.

"We are now adding Covid-19 messaging to this and urging people to get in touch should they become ill. Many lives can be saved as a result." 

The Foreign Office minister for the overseas territories and sustainable development, Liz Sugg said: "Coronavirus is the biggest threat we have all faced in decades and no-one is safe until everyone is safe.

"The UK is leading the way to stop the spread of the global coronavirus outbreak, find a vaccine and save lives.

"We are also helping countries deal with the virus on the ground. This new UK aid-backed health facility will make a real difference in Nepal by providing lifesaving medical equipment and vital transport services to help ensure vulnerable people in even the most remote communities can access the treatment they need."