According to a story from Japan Today, a recent ruling from a Japanese court has ordered the government of that country to pay damages to the tune of 370 million yen to the families of former Hansen’s disease (more often known as leprosy) patients, who have been historically segregated from the rest of society in sanitoriums. This cruel policy did not end until 1996. This incident as just one of many examples across the world of the extreme social stigma that surrounds this illness despite the fact that it has been completely curable for decades.
About Hansen’s Disease
Hansen’s disease, more widely known as leprosy, is a rare, long term infectious disease. This illness has been known to civilization for thousands of years; this has unfortunately led to the development of deeply rooted cultural stigma against patients with Hansen’s disease, primarily because of an unfounded belief that the disease can spread incredibly easy and because of the disfiguring effects of the disease if it remains untreated. The disease is caused by infection from the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae or Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Symptoms of Hansen’s disease include numb, discolored patches of skin, numbness in the hands and feet, nerve damage, and tissue loss, which can lead to deformations of the hands, feet, and joints. Symptoms may not appear for many years after the person becomes infected. The disease is solely spread through contact with fluid from an infected person. Multidrug therapy can resolve symptoms in most people and relapse is incredibly rare. To learn more about Hansen’s disease, click here.
The Dark History of Stigma
In the 20th century, Japan’s treatment of Hansen’s disease patients was nothing short of outrageous. 12,000 patients were forcibly confined to sanitoriums for the rest of their lives, completely cut off from friends and family. Forced sterilization of patients was common and over a thousand patients still remain cut off from society. The stigma of the disease also spread to the families of patients, who demanded compensation for lives plagued by bullying and discrimination in marriage, jobs, and education.
One woman, 75 year old Nobuko Harada, said that her entire life has been ruined by the disease. Her family nearly became destitute after her father was hauled off to a sanitorium. She was bullied by classmates and her husband became abusive when he learned that her father had Hansen’s disease. The court ruled that Japan’s parliament had committed legislative negligence by ignoring the problem.