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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

REPORT: Why Heritage Matters

International workshop motivates participants to do more to preserve the past.

Seven countries were represented at the Tokyo workshop.

The Second International Workshop on Preserving the History of Hansen’s Disease was held in Tokyo on October 31 and November 1. Delegates from Colombia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand joined those from Japan at the National Hansen’s Disease Museum for the two-day event organized by the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation.

It was at the same venue two years ago that the inaugural workshop brought together participants from Australia, Brazil, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Portugal and Taiwan to encourage initiatives to preserve leprosy history. As a result of that workshop, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines is now overseeing a project that will produce, in 2015, a multifaceted history of leprosy, placing the neglected disease within the larger framework of the Philippines’s national history. The country’s eight national sanitariums are also undertaking history projects, with the full support of the commission and the National Archives of the Philippines.

Different countries are at different stages of their historical preservation efforts. Of the countries participating at the workshop for the first time, participants from Nepal and Thailand presented their plans to build national leprosy museums. Colombia, meanwhile, has four separate leprosy-related museums in the town of Agua de Dios, a former leprosy colony; they are now exploring ways to coordinate their activities in order to better promote the town’s heritage.

Among the recommendations to emerge from the workshop were to:

  • pursue the development of an Internet-based network linking countries implementing or embarking on the preservation of leprosy history and memories;
  • secure a place for presentations on preservation of leprosy history on the agenda at appropriate national, regional or international meetings, e.g. history of medicine meetings, the International Leprosy Congress;
  • develop a pool of international multidisciplinary technical experts to help guide and supervise preservation efforts;
  • sensitize national governments and international bodies and agencies on the importance and urgency of the preservation of leprosy history and memories, so as to encourage support and favorable policies; and
  • include advocacy and other efforts for the preservation of leprosy history as part of activities on World Leprosy Day.


“There are stories of courage and perseverance that have to be told. They can educate the public against discrimination. Residents (of Sungai Buloh leprosarium) do not realize how their stories can be an inspiration to younger generations. Telling their stories is a marking of their place in history. By telling their stories, they can reclaim the dignity they once lost.”

— Joyce Wong, Malaysia