“I do not want any more treatment. I am tired of trying so many options,” says Divya wearily. Every time she steps out of the house, Divya turns deeply self-conscious of the stares the white patches on her skin invite and has given up hope.
Although various treatment options exist, persons affected with vitiligo (leucoderma) complain there is no satisfactory cure and no end to the stigma they encounter. A couple of years ago, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) introduced a herbal remedy, “Lukoskin” which was actively promoted by the Leucoderma Awareness Movement of India. Yet at a meeting of leucoderma affected and their families, earlier this year, there were very few takers for the medicine. While some admitted never having heard of it, others like Pavithra who had run the gauntlet of various treatment options , were reluctant to try it. “We have tried allopathy and alternative medicine,” said her father. “While there was little improvement, she only complained of dizziness and other problems.”
The DRDO launched the medicine comprising oral liquid and ointment was developed after extensive research by the Defence Institute of Bioenergy Research, a research arm of the Ministry of Defence and is touted to help affected regain natural colour in 300-500 days, according to K. Umapathy, secretary of the Leucoderma Awareness movement.
The medicine requires adhering to a strict diet regime which may cause patients to discontinue treatment, says Mr. Umapathy. Also, the medicine costs more than Rs. 1,000 and is not easily affordable to the poor. The association hopes that the remedy would be available in government health centres free of cost or at subsidised rates in future.
“As leucoderma is often viewed as a cosmetic problem priority, it is not accorded priority when it comes to providing expensive medicines free of cost,” said a doctor at a government medical college hospital. Yet the psychological impact of the disorder is greater and triggers depression on account of stigma which isolates individuals; some even fear stepping out of homes. Managing stress effectively is imperative to managing the disorder as stress can trigger the spread of vitiligo.
Treatment often varies according to size and location of white patches, says Vijay Anand, head, department of dermatology, Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Government Hospital. If the affected area is localised, the disorder can be limited with topical steroids. In certain cases, patients are also exposed to chambers that emit ultraviolet rays. As leucoderma, occurs due to lack of pigment production, treatment aims at stimulating pigment producing cells.
Often it is the hair follicles that are stimulated making is easier to treat patches on the face, but challenging when it comes to the lips and palms.
Various surgery options like skin grafting exist but are limited to tertiary care centres, says Dr. Vijay Anand.
What people with vitiligo must ensure is protecting the skin from excessive sun exposure, which may lead to malignancy. A good sunscreen can help, he suggests.
(Names of patients have been changed)