March 24, 2017
Each month, we’ll be showcasing the work of one of our members. First up is Amar Bahadur Timalsina, President of IDEA Nepal, a member of ILEP’s Advisory Panel of People Affected by Leprosy and a member of The Leprosy Mission International’s Board and a headteacher at a school in Kathmandu.
Seven years ago the Government of Nepal announced that leprosy had been eliminated from the country. But today people continue to be diagnosed, and there is some suggestion that cases may be on the increase.
Like in other countries, the effects of the disease are not only physical as in Nepal as traditional beliefs still hold strong in many places. Those with leprosy are often seen as suffering from a curse and people continue to be cast out of their families and communities. The stigma and discrimination that surrounds the disease leads many to hide their symptoms. This means that the disease can be well advanced by the time a diagnosis is made, making it much more difficult to treat.
Amar Bahadur Timalsina knows this stigma all too well. He was diagnosed with leprosy during the early years of his life and was rejected by his community as a result. “I couldn’t continue my studies in school,” he says. “I was compelled to live in an orphanage due to leprosy. It even made me have to sign divorce papers.” This, he explains, was the worst moment in his life.
From 1989 to 1995 Amar was successfully treated and his experience inspired in him a fierce desire to advocate for the safe rehabilitation of people affected by leprosy in their families and communities. Amar is now happily married with two children, and works as a school principal in a school in Kathmandu alongside his role with IDEA Nepal.
IDEA is one of the organisations at the forefront of the fight against stigma in Nepal, Amar says.
“IDEA is a platform for people affected by leprosy, where they unite together and struggle towards a common goal.” That common goal, Amar explains, is to have zero stigma and discrimination against people affected by leprosy in Nepal. IDEA Nepal has been recognised at both the community and national level as an advocate on leprosy issues, he says.
This goal is coupled with another; to bring people affected by leprosy back into the fold of society and end their exclusion. IDEA, Amar says, “helps people affected by leprosy bring their lost smiles back.”
As part of its mission to raise awareness of leprosy among the public, IDEA Nepal recently celebrated the 19th International Respect and Dignity Day on Monday 11th March alongside The Leprosy Mission Nepal. The day began with a peace march where the Health Minister of Nepal, Mr Gagan Kumar Thapa, marched alongside people affected by leprosy, students, government officials and members of the general public.
Events like this are key in making people aware of the true facts of leprosy and ending superstition and misinformation, Amar says.
Speaking at the event, the Health Minister said that there should be no discrimination in the name of disease, in a sure sign that times are changing. While one person affected by leprosy and three people were presented with awards for their outstanding contribution to helping others with the disease.
“The level of stigma and discrimination has been reducing over the years,” Amar confirms, but it has not disappeared entirely and it’ll take a collaborative effort to eradicate it entirely.
As a member of both ILEP’s advisory Panel of People Affected by Leprosy and The Leprosy Mission International’s Board, Amar is in a position to ensure that people affected are represented in decision-making. This, he says, is of vital importance as it will ultimately benefit people affected in his home county of Nepal and in other countries around the world.
He believes everyone can be involved in the fight against stigma and discrimination simply by accepting and including people affected by leprosy in all aspects of community life. This, he believes, will bring their dignity back and allow them to smile once more.
Find out more about the work of IDEA Nepal here.