Ilorin, Nigeria – Abigail Olaiya’s meal schedule has been unpredictable for as long as she can remember. Sometimes she snacks twice a day and at other times, she eats nothing all day because she cannot afford it.
It is a situation the 70-year-old has become used to at Oke Igbala (Yoruba for “hill of salvation”), a leprosarium in Omu-Aran in Nigeria’s central Kwara state, which she has called home for almost three decades.
As a person living with leprosy, she is unable to get stable work and a lack of familial or institutional support is pushing her to the brink of starvation.
Every year, more than 200,000 people are infected with leprosy globally; Nigeria records 1,000 new cases annually, according to a statement by the health minister this February. But there is no available data on the total number of people living with leprosy in Nigeria because “there is no actual curation”, according to the Leprosy Mission Nigeria.
A representative for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control also told Al Jazeera they do not have that figure.
There are 64 leprosy settlements across Nigeria but most are in varying states of disrepair as government support dries up, leaving them to their own devices.
Founded in 1943 by Canadian missionaries who ran it till the late ‘70s, the Omu-Aran facility is now in the trust of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) mission. Given the individual and institutional neglect of people with leprosy, the 65 people it houses continue to stay there in perpetuity.
Before discovering the leprosarium, Olaiya said she “suffered a great deal”.
“My father and mother were already dead and my siblings just neglected me,” she told Al Jazeera.
After first experiencing ulcers and swelling – symptoms of leprosy – in 1973, she had no…