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Leprosy Elimination Activities in Thailand [2011年09月04日(Sun)]

Visit to the MacKean Rehabilitation Center

Leprosy Elimination Activity

This is an article published in the Seisho (July-August). Seisho is the Bulletin of Oshima Seisyoen Leprosarium.


Leprosy Elimination Activities in Thailand

Yohei Sasakawa
WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Leprosy

I visited Thailand, a country in Southeast Asia, from December 20 -23, 2010. It was a one night/three-day trip (the second night was spent on a night flight). Thailand is a country of constitutional monarchy that is well remembered from the film “The King and I,” starring Yul Bryner and Deborah Kerr. Thailand is also known as the only country that maintained independence amongst all the courtiers that were colonized by the great powers including Japan, before World War II. It can also be said that it is one of the most successful countries in Southeast Asia. All seemed to be going well in Thailand but recently there have been many large scale demonstrations and sit-in protests against former prime minister Thaksin. It seems likely that succession to the throne will also become a big issue as the current King Bhumibol is aging and in bad health.

I visited the second largest city of Thailand, Chiang Mai, in the northern part of the country. It was to attend the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Sasakawa Ryoichi Young Leaders Fellowship Fund at the National Chiang Mai University which is known as one of the most outstanding universities in Thailand. Chiang Mai which is located about 700 kilometers north of Bangkok is known as an ancient city with a history of 1300 years and today it continues to be the center of economy and culture in northern Thailand. It has been 20 years since my last visit to Chiang Mai. It is indeed since the initiation of the Sasakawa Ryoichi Young Leaders Fellowship Fund. During these 20 years I have visited Bangkok several times, and every time I have been very impressed with the remarkable economic development of Thailand, but I was overtaken by surprise at the development of this local city that I had the fortune to visit after 20 years.

The MacKean Rehabilitation Center is the first leprosy institution built in Thailand. Since then, many leprosy facilities have been built all over the country. Since the discovery of Dapsone in 1943, a national Leprosy Management Program was introduced by the government that all leprosy patients would be provided with a place to live and Dapsone. Special teams for the treatment of leprosy patients were dispatched in the northern, northeastern and central Thailand. As a result of all these activities, the leprosy incidence came to be around 50 people per 10,000 population in 1953 which was further reduced to as low as 12.4 people in 1971. It was at this time that the Thai Ministry of Health decided to integrate treatment of leprosy patients into general hospital, and Thailand achieved the elimination of leprosy in 1994.

In 1907, an American Presbyterian missionary, Dr. James MacKean petitioned to the Chiang Mai ruler the plight of the many leprosy patients who had to live under a bridge. Hearing this, the benevolent ruler granted the use of an island surrounded by river and canal. This land was formally a corral and grazing land for the rulers’ elephants, but the local people feared it as a place haunted by the spirit of wild white elephants. Dr. MacKean built small bamboo and wooden cottages and established the “Chiang Mai Leper (the word “leper” has been replaced by “leprosy affected people” today) Asylum” in 1908. Patients seeking to find treatment gathered from not only all over Thailand, but from the neighboring countries of China, Laos and Myanmar. This institution gradually expanded with additional facilities such as clinics, recreation hall and water tower.
Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | Leprosy | URL | comment(0)
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