A retired Polegate GP who is still active in raising awareness about leprosy once found a supporter in Princess Diana.
Dr Ruth Butlin has spent time working with the Leprosy Mission in India and more recently helped to mark World Leprosy Day at the end of January.
Dr Butlin felt moved to help leprosy affected people, some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, after hearing a speaker from the Leprosy Mission when she was at a church youth club in Surrey in the 1960s.
She travelled to India in 1982 to begin work for The Leprosy Mission and there witnessed the plight of leprosy-affected people first-hand, a life-changing experience.
After 25 years’ work with the mission, in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, she moved back to UK to live with her father in Sussex in 2007. Dr Butlin worked for a few years at the GP surgery in Alfriston and then, after retiring from medical practice, moved to Polegate where she continues to do voluntary work for The Leprosy Mission.
She met Princess Diana when she was Superintendent of Anandaban Hospital in Nepal and found Diana had great compassion for leprosy sufferers.
The late Princess of Wales was Patron of The Leprosy Mission from 1990 until her death in 1997.
Dr Butlin said of Diana’s visit to Anandaban Hospital: “Most people come to see the work of the hospital, it’s about the bigger picture. But Diana came to see the patients. It was about the people’s stories for her.
“When she came into the hospital we expected her to stand by the bed and talk, but she sat on their beds and held their hands. The patients were touched and overwhelmed by her kindness.”
She added: “Nepali government officials came with Diana to Anandaban and other important people who usually wouldn’t visit the hospital.
“All the reporters were there so it was a great opportunity for people to find out about leprosy.
People are so fearful about leprosy but Diana’s visit showed that if an English princess could travel to the hospital, then it can’t be such a bad place.
“And people actually saw that it is a really happy place and that they didn’t need to worry.”
Leprosy is a mildly-infectious disease easily treated with a combination of antibiotics. Yet a quarter of a million people are diagnosed with it each year, a figure that is likely to be grossly underreported.
In January, people in Eastbourne churches were showing support for Danja, a small town in Niger where a high proportion of families are affected by leprosy.
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