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Monday, January 23, 2006
I was listening to NPR on my morning commute and heard a story I found intriguing. It was about the Leper Colony on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. As I once lived in Hawaii, and had heard of the leprosy outbreak in the 19th Century, my interest was piqued. It was a discussion of the book 'The Colony' by John Tayman that details Molokai's regretful and bitter history. From NPR.org: Morning Edition, January 23, 2006 · John Tayman's book The Colony tells the story of Molokai, the slice of Hawaiian paradise that was turned into an infamous 19th century leper colony. Tayman discusses the book with Renee Montagne.

The leper colony is located at Kalaupapa, on the island of Molokai. At the time, Hawaii was trying toimprovee its image as a tourist destination and wipe out the connotation that it was a hotbed of leprosy. The Royal Hawaiian's even went as far as to invite Jack London to come to visit so that he could write something (hopefully) positive to become Hawaii's first "travel brochure".

What I find ironic is that Kalaupapa was meant to be a prison of sorts for the lepers is now a hidden treasure of un-spoiled beauty- free from the rampant overdevelopment that is so common in Hawaii today.

Last year, one of the 10,000 outsiders who were able to visit Kalaupapa was the New York Times Adam Nagourney. Here's a snippet from his travelogue:

However you get there, you will find yourself in a place that was chosen because it so hard to get to - or, more precisely, to escape - as becomes clear when you hear the tales about how lepers 100 years ago were deposited into the churning ocean waters just offshore and told, in effect, to sink or swim. About 30 people still live there today, along with some employees, though they are there by choice and they call themselves residents rather than lepers. These striking geographical features contribute to a place that is at once very beautiful, if a little disconcerting, and absolutely compelling, particularly if you are lucky enough to draw Richard Marks, who has lived most of his life there, as your guide. Stopping frequently to catch his breath, speaking so quietly that our group nestled as close as it could to try to catch every word and tale, Mr. Marks told us the story of the colony, a searing indictment made all the more powerful by his understated tone. He drove us on an old school bus to the small cottages that he and the other residents call home, and to the church with holes drilled in the floor that allowed lepers to spit during services without having to leave.

Leprosy, sometimes known as Hansen's disease, is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterileperrae, an aerobic, acid fast, rod-shaped mycobacterium. The modern term for the disease is named after the discoverer of the bacterium, Gerhard Armauer Hansen. Sufferers of Hansen's disease have historically been known as lepers, however this term is falling into disuse as a result of the diminishing number of leprosy patients and the pejorative connotations of the term. In fact the term now that is most widely accepted among people and agencies working in the field of leprosy is 'people affected by leprosy'. The terms "leprosy" and "lepers" can also lead to public misunderstanding because the Bible uses these terms in reference to a wide range of skin conditions other than Hansen's disease. Historically, leprosy was an incurable and disfiguring disease. Lepers were shunned and sequestered in leper colonies. Today, leprosy is easily curable by multidrug antibiotic therapy. The main challenges in the eradication of Hansen's disease is in reaching populations that have not yet received multidrug therapy services, improving detection of the disease, and providing patients with high-quality services and affordable drugs.

Father Damien From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Father Damien Father Damien, formally Joseph de Veuster, ss.cc. and Blessed Damien of Molokai (January 3, 1840 - April 15, 1889), was a Flemish Catholic missionary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who is revered primarily by Hawaii residents and Christians for having dedicated his life in service to the lepers of Molokai in the Kingdom of Hawaii. In Catholicism, Father Damien is the spiritual patron of people with leprosy, outcasts, and those with HIV/AIDS, and of the State of Hawaii. Father Damien Day is recognized each year in Hawaii on April 15. His Feast Day in the Catholic Church is May 10. Having been beatified in 1995, Father Damien is awaiting formal approval for sainthood. The Father Damien Statue memorializes the priest in bronze at the United States Capitol. A full size replica stands in front of the Hawaii State Legislature. In 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified him and bestowed the official title of Blessed Damien of Molokai

What truly strikes a chord with me is that as a society, we haven't evolved very much in the last 100 or so years. Look at oattitudeute toward HIV or AIDS infected patients. Transmission isn't very easy through common casual contact. And contrary to popular belief, leprosy is one of the least contagious infectious diseases. Today AIDS patients are often times shunned just as lepers were throughout history.

Another interesting thought to ponder is the potential of the Avian Flu Pandemic. What measures would our government take to "keep us safe" once an outbreak began in the United States?

posted by Lisa at 1/23/2006 09:56:00 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


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