Thu, Sep 08, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Fate of leprosy sufferers unknown

BY JENNY CHOU  /  STAFF REPORTER

Leprosy victims drive battery-operated vehicles during a protest in front of the Executive Yuan in Taipei at losing their home. The protesters are being evicted from a care center that has been active since 1930.

PHOTO: AP

An independent legislator yesterday blasted the government over its treatment of relocated leprosy patients from the Happy Life Sanatorium, drawing a defense from a health official.

The criticism follows on the heels of a UN statement on July 20 which said that the eviction of the patients may have violated their internationally recognized rights to health and adequate housing.

Originally built in Sinjhuang (新莊) in 1930, the Happy Life Sanatorium served as a home for leprosy patients for many decades. But plans to relocate residents were hatched in 1994, when the Department of Health ceded the 17 hectare property belonging to the leper colony to the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation for the construction of an MRT Line. The residents, who claimed they didn't know their home had been sold to the MRT until construction work began in 2002, were finally evicted in July.

At a press conference yesterday, legislator May Chin (高金素梅) said, "The abuse of the rights of residents at Happy Life Sanatorium should by no means be considered a less important issue than that of the Thai laborers," referring to controversy over mistreatment of foreign laborers after a group of them rioted in Kaohsiung last month.

Chin added that if the matter was not dealt with effectively by health officials and the central government, "it would strongly affect how the world views Taiwan, a country that claims to respect human rights, democracy and liberty."

Chin said that NT $1 billion (US$30 million) of taxpayers' money had been spent building new accommodations for the patients. However, Chin said, the provisions at the new location at Hui-long Hospital were far from sufficient for their needs.

"Do you think placing patients who have problems with all four limbs on the 4th floor, which they can only get to by scootering across the grounds and cramming themselves into lifts, is seeing to their needs?" Chin asked Deputy Health Minister Chen Tsai-Chin (陳再晉), who was also present at the press conference.

Chin suggested the new accommodations were built to serve the needs of Hui-Long hospital saying that, "If they were built for leprosy patients they would be bungalows in natural surroundings."

Although Chen insisted that Happy Life Sanatorium was separate from Hui-long Hospital, pictures were shown of medical prescriptions with "Hui-long Hospital" clearly printed on it. When asked why the new accommodation's name was so important, a member of the Youth Happy Life Sanatorium Society said that "it was related to what purposes the funds meant for the new housing were being used for."

Asked why the Happy Life Sanatorium was now commonly being referred to as Hui-long hospital, Chen said that he didn't have to explain "what didn't exist."

During the press conference, Chin also raised the question of why patients didn't receive the entire NT$12,750 that the government gives to the leprosy patients each month, but rather received only NT$7,750.

Chen stressed that, "It was not a matter of them not receiving the whole sum but a matter of health officials only being allowed to give out NT$7,750."

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