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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy


Three volumes of testimonies of residents of Kuryu Rakuseien Sanatorium in Japan have been published recently. As at the country's other leprosy sanatoriums, the population of Kuryu Rakuseien is elderly and in decline, and the residents took it upon themselves to produce a record of their experiences -- often grim -- of sanatorium life in days gone by.

While these books will serve as an important historical record when people look back on the era of forced segregation in Japan, they have a more immediate purpose. Because their numbers are decreasing, the aged residents anticipate the day when the sanatorium will be opened to other users. Indeed, both the surrounding community and the residents themselves are in favor of this -- the former so that they have access to better medical care, and the latter so that medical personnel aren't cut back as the sanatorium's existing population shrinks.

Under such circumstances, the residents want the public to know about them, the discrimination they have endured, and what kind of lives they have led behind the sanatorium walls. If they are to share the space, they reason, they should also share their experiences. Behind this is a fear that they may be subjected to a new form of discrimination within the sanatorium that has become their home, if ordinary citizens question why the residents get their food, accommodation and healthcare for free.

To counter ignorance, suspicion, and prejudice, and in order to facilitate coexistence, these testimonies are the solution the residents devised. Without them, they feel, it may not be possible for others to truly understand what they have been through. Led by Mr. Yuji Kodama, the project took foresight, courage and tremendous determination. It represents a remarkable effort.