Most of the forty-odd men and women living at the Hendala Leprosy Hospital have been there for most of their adult lives. There’s no medical reason for them to stay. Leprosy is curable and the patients are no longer infectious. But there’s nowhere else for them to go.
Knowing they’ll spend the rest of their lives at the hospital, these patients have created a world for themselves inside Hendala's walls. They’ve fallen in love and married one another. They’ve learned professions and become artists and musicians. They’ve managed to build the community they couldn’t find in the outside world.
Ross Velton looks at the stigma of leprosy in Sri Lanka through the lives of Hendala's patients. How can the fear and disgust which leprosy causes be turned into understanding and acceptance? While awareness campaigns try to change attitudes, at Hendala the change has come from within. The patients have found new lives which seem to be fulfilling. In this way, they’re challenging the stigma of leprosy all by themselves.
But stigma is only part of the story. Efforts to control the spread of leprosy in Sri Lanka have been mostly successful. However, the disease is making a comeback in many parts of the country. Since the end of a 26-year civil war six years ago, new cases are being found in areas where the worst fighting took place. And with more new cases, the fight to reduce the stigma of leprosy intensifies.