Malawi News Agency reporter JAMES MWALE shares the agony of a family struggling with ‘inherited’ leprosy.
Two decades ago, the Ngozos of Dickson Village, about 15 kilometers from Malingunde in Lilongwe, gave birth to the first of their three sons.
As a 10-year-old, the boy christened Overtone lost his dad to leprosy. However, this was just the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
A year later, the boy would quit school in Standard One due to the same disease that robbed the trio of their breadwinner.
“All the children were born free from any defect. Overton started showing early signs a year after his father’s death,” recalls Geoffrey Matemba, a long-time neighbour of the Ngozos.
According to Matemba, Overtone’s has lived with leprosy for more than six years, and it keeps worsening.
“His fingers started wearing out and later started plucking off one after another until he lost all his 10 fingers,” he narrates.
“The disease then started eating up his skin, It has now spread down to his feet, plucking off his toes.”
When Overton was taken to Dickson Health Centre, the local facility was not adequately equipped to treat his condition. A clinician referred him to Mlare Catholic Hospital in Mitundu, but he never went there because his mother, Namanjasi Ngozo, could not afford K4 000 for their trip.
Bishop Jacques Jackson has followed the plight of Overtone for years. The founder of Endless Life Pentecostal Church in Malingunde rallied his congregation to help the needy boy and his siblings.
“When I was informed about the children’s suffering by Matemba, my brother-in-law, we visited them and donated some items, including sugar, maize, salt and soap. They need help,” explains Jackson.
Overton and his brother survive on herding goats. Their mother remarried a father of two and they survive on seasonal piecework in crop fields of well-off neighbours. The two barely have enough time to take care of the five children.
Before his condition spread throughout his body, Overton used his savings to hire casual workers who molded sun-baked bricks and built a hut he now occupies with his brother.
However, his hand-to-mouth livelihood has been reduced to total dependency.
“My hands can’t hold anything. So most times when my mother and sister are not around, I can’t bathe, nor eat, nor change clothes,” he says.
His wasting skin emits a stench which repels people around him.
Due to stigma, Overtone spends most of the time alone. With no one to call a friend, his only source of solace are his brother and sister.
His sister, Mercy, is also grappling with leprosy. She struggles to do household chores, including drawing water and cooking.
As it was in the early stage of Overtone’s condition, the girl’s fingers are slowly wearing out.
With little care and support, coupled with stigma, Overtone’s life is never easy.
He says: “The pain I’m enduring is unbearable and I am alive today because life is sacred. Sometimes, suicidal thoughts cross my mind.”