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Suffering from ‘yingondwe’ – The Namibian

EASTER Arupe (73) cannot do anything without leaning on her daughter.

She suffers from yingondgwe.

This is what the Rukwanali call the age-old disease that has afflicted her since 1975.

At the hospital, the doctors call it leprosy.

After examining her gaping wound last November, she was sent home because there was nothing more the doctors could do to treat it.

Seventy-six other people suffering from yingondwe at Muroro in the Mashare district have also been struggling to get treatment at the Rundu State Hospital.

Some have died due to poverty over the years. Arupe has managed to hang on, but the disease is slowly taking its toll.

Her daughter Martha Katjotjo is forced to buy medicine from private pharmacies because state facilities have run out of stock.

In January, Katjotjo spent over N$2 000 on medicine for her mother, which is becoming increasingly challenging as she is unemployed.

Her mother’s wish for a wheelchair seems unlikely as there’s simply no money.

So, she spends her days lying in the same position under the shade of a tree.

“This wound was bad when she came [to me], there were even maggots crawling from it,” said Katjotjo, who was cleaning chicken feet to cook and sell during the interview with The Namibian.

Arupe’s story is similar to others living with leprosy in the village who have voluntarily come together because of their shared experiences, stigma and isolation.


Leprosy affects the skin, peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes, resulting in discolouration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.

Leprosy is transmitted through nose and mouth droplets during close and frequent contact with untreated cases and is curable with multi-drug therapy.

Treatment in the early stages can prevent disability.

According to the World Health Organisation, leprosy occurs in 120 countries, with more than 200 000 new cases reported annually.

In the run-up to World Leprosy Day, observed on 30 January every year, The Namibian visited some of those living with the disease at Muroro, home to Namibia’s most significant community of people with leprosy.

The village once hosted a leprosarium until the late 1980s, when the country’s struggle for independence led to its closure.

Arupe was transferred from the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital to the leprosarium at Mashare when she was first diagnosed with the disease many years ago.

She has been living under her daughter’s care in Rundu’s Ndama location since last December after being discharged from the Rundu State Hospital where she was admitted with a severe wound on her left foot.

Katjatjo said it has been difficult to get assistance and medical supplies such as bandages and ointments to treat her mother’s wound at the village. Since the closure of the leprosarium, Katjotjo said her mother has not received the necessary medical assistance from the state hospital.


John Ndjamba (67) has been suffering from the disease since 1981.

A chair in the corner of his shack holds a basin full of nappies and toiletries.

Ndjamba is bedridden and said his only hope is for someone to help him with an electric wheelchair as one leg is deformed, while the other was amputated. His niece, Maria Konde, said his entire pension is spent buying nappies, linen and washing powder.

“We are really struggling to live with leprosy patients. You always have to ensure there is someone at home to help him when he needs something. Even food, you need to feed him.”

People living with the disease have appealed to the government to open a hospital specifically to treat leprosy patients, because they do not receive fair treatment at state hospitals.

A nurse at the Mashare clinic, Alfons Dikuwa, said of the 77 people living with leprosy in the area, only one is a new case, detected last year.

To protect the community, they always encourage people to visit the clinic when they suspect leprosy symptoms. When they identify a person with leprosy, they are transferred to the Rundu State Hospital for a final diagnosis, he said.

“Once they are placed on treatment, they are referred back to the clinic and once they are done with treatment, they are integrated back into the community,” said Dikuwa.

Kavango East acting health regional director Woita Kampumburu said he was unable to comment as the programme officer dealing with leprosy cases was not available.

“He is in Windhoek, where they are going to look at new strategies to manage TB and leprosy cases.

“We want to strengthen our line of communication with the public and assist them accordingly. If they have problems that they are not happy with in regard to the hospital, or treatment, the officers are here to assist. These offices are here to serve the community,” said Kampumburu.

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