Punam and her Neelam
Mary (2nd from right) first noticed Punam at a self-help group meeting. Then aged 10, Punam was crying as she soaked her leprosy-damaged feet to soften and clean the skin.
“One of Punam’s toes had fallen to the left and there was a huge ulcer on that foot. The lady with her said she had to work so hard in her home and mind 2 younger children. So she wasn’t getting any rest for the foot. Punam’s mother had told her if she couldn’t work she wasn’t wanted. The doctors said she might be dead by 20. I thought of my own girls having to go through that. Mary is paying study fees and medical costs for Punam, now aged 23, and her younger sister Neelam aged 17.
These girls require regular medical attention for their leprosy-affected limbs. Like many people cured of leprosy, they may have permanent nerve damage. Where this occurs they feel no pain and are therefore at constant risk of wounding and ulceration, which can lead to further damage. Hands, feet, eyes and the lining of the nose are particularly vulnerable.
2020 update: Punam is currently studying to be an Auxiliary Nurse Midwife. Neelam is studying well in secondary school. She was treated at Lalgadh Leprosy Hospital and Services Centre this year for ulcers on her leg and is now doing well.