Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 17 News List

'Let us live our lives here in peace'

Former leprosy patients are being forced out of their homes and relocated to a hospital that fails to cater for their needs


The hospital authority has adopted "soft" coercion techniques to persuade the former lepers to agree to move, according to the residents and volunteer workers.

``The hospital asks the staff to talk the residents into believing how great the new hospital is. Meanwhile, the hospital gra-dually withdraws the medical resources and personnel and refuses to carry out the needed maintenance work for the damaged, leaking houses,'' Lai said.

Huilung Community Hospital is a two-building complex designed to provide me-dical treatment for the general public. The former lepers will be placed in wards on the fourth and eighth floors of the building. Advocate groups believe some of the more elderly patients will find it difficult to deal with the physical environment of the building. For example, many residents are wheelchair-bound, but the building is equipped with just two elevators. Also, pressing the buttons of the elevator is

difficult for those who have lost their

fingers due to infection.

The legal representative for Hansen's Disease patients, Wu Xu-zhou (吳旭洲), believes the overall design of the hospital fails to meet basic living requirements and seriously violates the residents' rights to live safely and without fear.

Other advocates for the patients say that hospital care is a retrograde step, while advanced countries are moving toward community care. In the minds of many leper patient representatives, relocating residents to the new hospital is the same as being quarantined.

"We have made an appeal to put the demolition plan on hold while we take the case to the court, and we will also tackle the legal issues of the health authority selling properties [where ownership is unclear] in the sanatorium to the MRT," Wu said.

As the only public leprosy hospital built during the colonial period, Happy Life Sanatorium is one of the few historical sites that bear witness to the development of public health in Taiwan. It is one of 60 similar sanatoriums around the world. Since 2001, however, the Taipei County Government Cultural Affairs Bureau has repeatedly failed to meet the requests from local cultural and historical preservation groups to upgrade the historical value of the sanatorium and thereby preserve it.

In January, the newly revised Cultural Heritage Preservation Law (文化資產保存法), which allows the Council for Cultural Affairs to stop local governments if they are threa-tening to destroy heritage sites, was passed. The tricky part is that the CAA can't review the leper colony operation before the Executive Yuan completes legal procedures and publicly announces the revised articles of the law. So far, the nation's highest policy-making body has yet to put the law into effect.

In view of the looming deadline for relocation, the Taiwan Youth Union for Lepers' Rights has called on advocate groups and individuals to stay with residents at the colony to raise social awareness of what is going on. As for the residents themselves, more than 200 patients have already signed a formal requisition to stay.

"We are 70 to 80-years old. You can't imagine how frightening this is to us to not know what will happen next," Chen said, "but we won't give in. We want the authority to preserve what is left of our homes."

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