Saturday, May 4, 2013
Catholic University Hansen Disease Center
Catholic University Hansen Disease Center has for over 50 years worked quietly in treating and working to achieve dignity for the sufferers of what we use to call leprosy. It is the sole professional research center working since 1956, in the care of those suffering from Hansen's disease. The Peace Weekly wrote of the beginnings of the Cura Association in Korea, with its Hansen clinic and laboratory. The first chairman of the Cura Association was a Maryknoll priest Fr. Joseph Sweeney and at his recommendation in 1961, the door for research on chronic disease began at the medical department of Holy Spirit University that became the Catholic University Medical School.
Fr. Joseph Sweeny after being expelled from China by the Communists came to Korea. He went to Carville Leprosarium in Louisiana to study what was the latest treatment of Hansen's disease patients. He brought back with him the Marianum antigen and a vaccine which he gave free to all those that came to the clinic. DDS was the only medicine used for those suffering from Hansen's disease and with the discovery of the Marianum antigen, which had no side effects, Fr. Sweeny spread its use in Korea.
Fr. Sweeney with a medical team would travel throughout the country helping the sick, and distributing food to the poor. In the year 1968, they treated 18,000 patients in 80 regions of the country. The mobile team would travel with the medical students to the different village headquarters for treatment. The total number of sick was considered to be 200,000.
At the start, it was only concern for the treatment of the sick, but they expanded to helping the sick become independent and to return them to society. Even if the treatment had been successful, and they had recovered, it was almost impossible to send them back into society. Prejudice towards those recovered remained, and they were often greeted with derogatory names and remarks.
In 2005, the research centered received support from the government for a study of the human rights of those with Hansen disease. The chief of the Institute for two terms and nearly 20 years said, distressed: "Those with Hansen's disease live with the shock of wanting to deny their own existence. Even if they have been cured, they can't return to their old jobs, they can't become independent. How can we say they are cured?"
Furthermore: "In over 40 medical schools the Catholic Medical School is the only one studying Hansen's Disease. It is because of the Catholic desire to have them live as our neighbors." There are 13 working on the research team, and an outpatient clinic goes out once a week for treatment and education.
On the 50th anniversary of the start of the Institute, they had a meeting of those studying the disease in Asia to explain what they have learned over the last 50 years on the treatment and their educational programs. As they look forward to the future, they hope to be a help to those throughout the world who are recovering from the disease by providing funds and relief services as they continue to work to increase their acceptance in society. There are now about 12,000 recovered Hansen disease patients who are old and have difficulty in rehabilitating.