RAWALPINDI, Jan 26: The leprosy day will be observed throughout the country on Sunday (January 27).

Rawalpindi has the oldest leprosy hospital in the region. Set up in 1904 by the British Leprosy Mission, the hospital is located in what is now a congested part of the city. At the time of establishment of the hospital, it was a deserted place in the outskirts of the city.

The hospital was the brainchild of an American professor, Dr R. R. Stewart, who used to teach at the local Gordon College of the US missionaries.

Mr Stewart had come upon a group of lepers who lived in the outskirts of Rawalpindi in accordance with the British Lepers Act 1827, which required all lepers to be segregated from the community.

Touched by their plight, Mr Stewart floated the idea of a leprosy hospital in the locality. The British Leprosy Mission decided to implement the proposal.

Lepers from all over British India used to come to this hospital for treatment.

In late 1930s, a home was established for the healthy children born to leprosy patients in the hospital. However, the home was closed when the method of leprosy treatment changed in the early 60s.

The American Mission had also built asylums for leprosy patients. However, these asylums were either closed down or converted into hospitals when the cure of leprosy was discovered in 1948.

In 1968, an organization by the name of Aid to Leprosy Patients took over the Rawalpindi Leprosy Centre under the aegis of the German Leprosy Relief Association.

By 1965, with new, more effective drugs available and patients coming for treatment in early stages of the diseases, work was started on making the hospital a referral centre for leprosy patients in the Punjab, Azad Kashmir, parts of the NWFP and Northern Areas.

Since 1970, the Rawalpindi Leprosy Hospital has a 40-bed unit for short-term admissions and an out-patient clinic that is open six days a week.

The “General Skin Clinic” was introduced in 1972 which is open three days a week and where leprosy is treated along with other diseases and the disease detected in early stages.

In 1981, a General Physiotherapy Department started working at the hospital and in 1995, an eye clinic was introduced.

There is also an orthopaedic shoe shop where shoes are made to fit deformed feet and to help prevent further deformity. Operations have been performed in the hospital’s Surgical Unit since 1986.

The Rawalpindi Leprosy Hospital also caters to the needs of a number of permanently handicapped patients. This unit has facilities for 32 patients.

Training programmes are conducted at the hospital for medical officers, leprosy technicians and laboratory technicians. Groups of doctors, medical students, nurses and others also visit the hospital for lectures and demonstrations.

In 1999, a small-scale tuberculosis control programme was launched at the hospital.

The Aid to Leprosy Patients established a “social department” at the hospital in 1992 for rehabilitation of cured patients. The patients are visited at home, their individuals needs investigated and steps of rehabilitation recommended and implemented.

The Leprosy Control Programme in Pakistan is a joint venture of the provincial health department and the Aid to Leprosy Patients. The hospital has also integrated leprosy control into its general services. The programme deals with tuberculosis, skin problems, blindness, psychotherapy and rehabilitation.

In Pakistan, 1,000 new leprosy cases are discovered annually. It may be noted here that leprosy is one of the least contagious of the contagious diseases in the world.

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