Culture minister visits sanatorium

Staff writer, with CNA

Mon, May 28, 2012 - Page 2

Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) yesterday visited Losheng Sanatorium, Taiwan’s first sanatorium for leprosy patients established in the 1930s, and suggested turning it into a medical museum so that the historic venue can stay in operation.

Lung, who was accompanied on a tour of the facility by the sanatorium’s residents and members of the Losheng Self-Help Organization and the Youth Alliance for Losheng, visited the former hospital area of the sanatorium while also visiting a Buddhist prayer room and a facility for patients with mental disorders.

During her visit to the landmark medical unit Lung hugged and chatted with residents of the sanatorium.

In response to calls by the groups for Lung to designate the sanatorium as a national historic site, she said that a medical memorial museum could be established first and pledged to assist the New Taipei City (新北市) government and the Department of Health with the idea of establishing a museum there.

Lung said she has read extensively about the history of the sanatorium and understands that society has long been unfair to the ground-breaking facility’s patients, but she pointed out that a lack of funds is the biggest challenge that the facility currently faces.

Activists campaigning on behalf of the sanatorium have traveled abroad in their drive to have the building listed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage site.

In 2009, the government designated Losheng as a potential UNESCO-listing because it has been the site for key historical moments in Taiwan’s political, medical, public health and human rights past.

However, Lung added that she did not feel that Losheng needs to prove its value through UNESCO listing given that it is precious in its own right.

Campaigners have been protesting for the rights of the about 100 patients who still reside in the sanatorium, which was built nearly eight decades ago to segregate leprosy patients from society.

Action to preserve the sanatorium was initiated in 2004 when Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) outlined plans to build a rail depot for the system’s planned Xinzhuang MRT line, which encroached on the sanatorium’s grounds.

Activists claim the construction of the line has caused land collapses close to the building, saying that cracks in the walls of the facility and sink holes nearby are the result of the infrastructure building project.

Given her limited time, Lung was unable to visit the sanatorium’s cremation site, the place she said she had most wanted to see, given that she had read patients take care of their own wardmates after their deaths and carry their bodies up a steep incline to the cremation site.

Two groups active in the campaign to save the sanatorium later issued a statement thanking Lung for showing support for the sanatorium while calling for the TRTC to assist with the ministry’s preservation work.