from The Guardian
“Life drawing”, “still life” and “life class” are all fairly mundane terms I thought only applied to nude figures or fruit bowls in an art studio. However, in November, I stood and drew in the corner of a plastic surgeon’s theatre in Lalgadh hospital, near Janakpur in Nepal. The theatre was set up to operate on the paralysed hands of leprosy patients. “Life drawing” became very appropriate very quickly.
Like many infectious diseases that predominantly affect those in poverty, leprosy is alive and well; there were more than 200,000 new cases were reported in 2015. The sad fact is that the disease is difficult to contract and relatively straightforward to treat. Many patients present late, when paralysis sets in. Although medication can make patients non-infective, the paralysis requires surgery to correct.
Each year, Working Hands – a Bristol-based charity run by hand surgeon Donald Sammut – spends two weeks, pro bono, operating on the backlog of patients in Lalgadh, training staff and providing hundreds of kilos of medical equipment and consumables. The work is highly skilled, but in many cases the objective is simple: to generate enough movement and power in a hand for the patient to go back to work, or to eat, or to look after themselves in a society where stigma is attached to those with the disease. Most of these patients are illiterate farmers whose only means of support depends on how much they can dig, or carry.