Since we first reported that the former Sungei Buloh leprosy colony near Kuala Lumpur might be preserved as a heritage site, media reports now indicate that demolition work has begun in order to make way for a new development there.
Sungei Buloh has a special place in the history of leprosy. Not only was it one of the largest leprosy colonies in the world in its day, it was also the place where key research was done that led to the development of the modern drug regimen that has made leprosy a completely curable disease today.
The development of an effective cure for leprosy in the early 1980s represents a remarkable victory over one of the oldest diseases to have afflicted the human race. But it was a victory achieved only after countless individuals across the centuries had endured not only the physical suffering brought on by the disease but also the psychological trauma of being forced into isolation in order to "protect" the rest of society.
No other group of human beings has been treated quite like people with leprosy. As the disease gradually runs its course in the coming decades, we must not forget the tribulations so many have been through, and the lessons to be drawn from society's response.
Equally, there are inspiring stories that bear witness to the courage and spirit of individuals affected by leprosy, some of whom are living out their days in Sungei Buloh. Today, such places are not well known. This is all the more reason to preserve them for posterity.