Monday, August 18, 2008

The Fight Against Leprosy in Hawaii

Number of victims increasing but the disease not hereditary
Oakland Enquirer 1895 - (California) – The government has been pursuing for 26 years the policy of segregating the lepers, who are sent to the island of Molokai, where they must live and die. When this policy was adopted it was believed that it would accomplish the extirpation of the disease, and upon that theory it is still pursued: But recent official reports that in the long fight against this disease the faith of those in the contest sometimes wavers. The leper population upon Molokai increases steadily, and, while some authorities hold that there is not much leprosy upon other islands, there are those who assert that there is as much as ever.

From the statistics given in the report to the President of the Board of Health, it appears that in 1866, when the Molokai settlement was established there were 105 lepers in it and by 1870 they had increased to 279. In 1880 the number was 606, and in 1890, 1,213. In 1893 it was 1,155, a less number than in 1890 but an increase over 1892. The report comments: “Considering the natural decrease of the native population and the number of new cases which annually occur, it would seem that in proportion there is as much leprosy as at the commencement if not more”.

The settlement is kept up at an annual cost of $80,000 or over, and, of course, it would not be maintained if it were not generally believed that segregating abates the plague of leprosy, with prospects of its ultimate eradication. And bearing in mind that this policy stamped out leprosy in Europe where it was very prevalent during the Middle Ages, it is reasonable to believe that it will do the same in Hawaii, only it must continue for a century or two and not merely for twenty six years.

This report shows that the theory of hereditary leprosy has been shaken by the experience at Molokai, where most of the children of lepers appear to be healthy, or in the term used by the physicians “clean”. And many of the children taken away young do not in after life develop the disease. This evidence, in the opinion of Dr. Myer, the health officer upon Molokai, justifies the belief that children do not inherit the leprosy, but contract it from their parents in early childhood. This separation of the children from their leper parents involves a good deal of suffering, and has not been universally followed. There is a home provided for little daughters of lepers but none for boys. Dr. Myer asks the question what will become of these children who grow up on the island and answers it by saying: “They will grow up probably a lawless and dangerous element. The settlement is their home; they know no other. …. There is no work for them; they have learned nothing; they have seen little less than idleness, drinking and gambling, and whatever else perfects hoodlums and tramps”.

A human being could hardly come into existence under more depressing conditions than those of the heartfelt child in a colony of lepers.

New York Times
Published September 28th. 1895

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