As leprosy ceases to be a public health problem in many countries as a result of modern medication, it is coming to be seen as a disease of the past. Sanatoriums are closing, experts are retiring and leprosy services are being incorporated into the general health services. The history of those who have lived with the disease, of the disease itself and the quest for a cure — and of society’s response to leprosy — are in danger of being forgotten. But the rich history of leprosy is replete with experiences and lessons for building a society where people with special needs, including those resulting from leprosy and other diseases, are fully accepted.
As our foundation became aware of the importance of preserving leprosy history, we came to appreciate how leprosy has left footprints all over the world. We were struck by the universality of the themes we encountered, but also by the unique ways the disease presented itself in different countries, and the particular political, cultural and societal responses it triggered.
We began to realize that we were looking at much more than the history of a disease. The history of leprosy and its legacies are full of potential for analyzing human relationships — individual, communal, societal, national and international — now and in the future.
Leprosy has long been a symbol of separation, uprooting the lives of those diagnosed with the disease, and those of their families. But leprosy also unites. People affected by leprosy today are united by a strong sense of comradeship and solidarity, and a desire that their stories be told.
Without the viewpoints of those who have experienced the disease and its consequences, the history of leprosy will not be complete. There is a need to act while their memories are still within reach.
— Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation