Wracked by uncertainty and struggling to find a bride after white patches appeared on his face, the 33-year-old Indian-origin businessman flew down from his home in Kenya to India for treatment. A few months later, the garment trader is back home, fully treated and all set to tie the knot. And he credits his Delhi doctor for the dramatic turnaround in life. “Thank you for giving me a second life!” the garment trader, who is planning to honeymoon in Switzerland, said in a heartfelt email thanking his Delhi-based doctor, Munish Paul. He was suffering from vitiligo, a skin disorder that rock star Michael Jackson suffered from. In India, around one percent of the population is believed to be suffering from the disease. The Gujarati-origin Kenyan, who prefers not to be identified, had white patches on his face, medically also known as leucoderma. But a chance discovery on internet about laser treatment for the disease brought him to the Indian capital, and gave him a fresh lease of life.
“He appeared low on confidence when he came to me first. But within a few weeks of laser-assisted melanocyte cell transplant therapy in April, his personality changed dramatically,” said Paul, director of Dr Paul’s Skin Laser Centre in west Delhi. Like many others, the now groom-to-be had heard of myths that the disease was contagious, rooted in consumption of white food and passed on to the patient’s third generation, added Paul, who has helped several patients from Russia, France and the Gulf regain their body’s natural pigment in skin areas with white spots. “There is tremendous social stigma attached to the disease. People still believe it is incurable,” Paul told IANS. The laser technique involves removing a very thin skin sample of a normal pigment area, preparation of a pigment cell suspension, removal of a thin layer of skin from the patches and spreading the suspension on the scraped white spots. The dressing is removed after six days and natural pigmentation starts in the affected area within four weeks, covering the entire white area in two-four months.
The treatment of vitiligo in India costs just a fifth of what it would in the west, said Paul, adding that the treatment was effective in patients whose white patches were stable and not spreading. Treatment of a white patch of about 100 sq cm on a patient’s hand would cost about Rs.50, 000 in India and about $5,000 abroad, said the dermatologist who has treated about 850 patients over the last six years. The melanocyte cell transplant therapy, which Patel opted for, is offered by about three centres in Delhi. “We had a patient of African origin from Canada, Nite Sand, who said he couldn’t find too many laser technique experts for the disease in his country,” Dr Sudhir Aggarwal, another vitiligo expert from Delhi, told IANS.
The white skin patches are less visible in fair people as compared to dark-complexioned people. This explains the low demand and limited treatment options for vitiligo in the west, he added. According to consultant-surgeon Raj Narayan, there is no age for the white patches to appear on the skin. “The onset can be from birth to old age. Even though most people with vitiligo are in good health, they face a greater risk of having thyroid and anaemia.” In some cases, the disease is hereditary but a major cause for it is autoimmunity or the malfunction of the white blood cells in a patient’s body, he said. Paul added that the lack of awareness among patients was a major hindrance in their fight against the ailment. “The cosmetic results that this new laser technology achieves are phenomenal; it has changed the lives of so many people of marriageable age, especially women.” The Kenyan trader would agree.