Utne Blogs > Literature

The Forgotten Disease

by Kari Volkmann-Carlsen 

Tags: essay writing, reported writing, leprosy, diseases, Vice magazine, Conor Creighton, Steve Ryan,

At the Lalgadh Leprosy Hospital in Nepal, amputations and skin grafts are routine procedures. Caregivers see a dozen new patients every day, with many more returning for continued treatment. With this sort of bustle, it’s surprising that we don’t hear or read more about the disease. Enter Conor Creighton, who wrote a provocative, vividly detailed essay for Vice magazine about his trip to the hospital. With Steve Ryan’s accompanying dramatic photos, the captivating account leaves no doubt in our minds that leprosy is as real and gruesome today as it was in the days of Moses.

Creighton tenderly describes Bakumari, “a tiny woman with short gray hair and frail limbs that poke out from under her sari like the branches of a blackthorn tree.” In 14 years with the disease, Bakumari's eyelids have disintegrated, robbing her of sight. She’s lost most of her toes. The worst part is that she has no way of protecting herself from further damage, having lost all sensory capabilities in her extremities.

Creighton captures the horror of the disease, both physically and socially. Called a neglected disease by the World Health Organization, leprosy carries a stigma in many countries, leading to negligent medical attention from doctors who simply turn people away at the first sign of infection. The most disheartening aspect of knowing that this seemingly archaic disease exists in the 21st century is that it's very easily cured if treated properly: A six-month schedule of medication, although physically brutal, flushes leprosy bacteria from the body. Creighton’s essay is an eye-opener, fluidly told, effortlessly carrying the weighty importance of reengaging people with the appalling realities of the forgotten disease.