In Summary
  • The villagers are mired in poverty as they cannot engage in meaningful income-earning activities.
  • NCPWD County Coordinator Joan Chimera says they are working to ensure people living with disabilities are registered and issued with identity cards.

A colony of leprosy victims who either abandoned their homes or were sent away by their families nestles in Msambweni, Kwale County.

Nearly all of Tumbe village residents are now elderly, living with disability and burdened by biting poverty and lingering discrimination.

The impoverished village was once home to a “leper colony”.

In the 1960s, lepers sought refuge in the village alongside a medical centre that was trying to eradicate the disease.

Later, well-wishers built stone-walled houses where those diagnosed with the disease would live as they sought treatment.

Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease that mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosal surface of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes.

Although the residents are now cured, many of them have been left permanently disfigured.


They chose to stay put because they were worried about social stigma, or that their families would refuse to take them back due to ignorance, or it would be difficult to find conventional work.

In this village, hardships persist, even though the disease no longer poses the threat it once did.

In Kenya, leprosy is among the 15 neglected tropical diseases. The country was declared leprosy-free in 1989 after reporting less than one case in 10,000 persons.

Salim Ali Pato tries not to think about the life that he would have had.

What is the point, he says, of dwelling on the disease that robbed him of a chance to make more out of his life? Pato was 16 years old when he was diagnosed with leprosy.

Sitting on a handmade makuti mat, he remembers the discrimination he faced.

He left his home in Mrima village, Dzombo ward in Lunga Lunga Sub-County for the camp in 1966.

He just could not stand being ridiculed by family members due to the disease that has for long carried a great deal of social stigma.


At its peak, the village was home to 100 residents who were put on medication that cured them of the disease.

Pato and others would have gone back home, but he did not, due to various reasons. Stigmatisation meant life outside Tumbe would be difficult.

He is now the village chairman representing families that had been affected by the disease.

He says on the streets of major towns, lepers dot obscure corners with their deformities for all to see.

For this reason, society relegates lepers to the fringes. “Even those who are cured shoulder a heavy emotional burden and are treated as outcasts,” he says.

Their children also have to leave the village once they hit 18. “We are worried as parents because, as a rule here, when a child attains the age of 18, he or she is supposed to leave the camp and fend for themselves.

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