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2008年6月17日 (火)


2008/6/17 --The Asahi Shimbun, June 16(IHT/Asahi: June 17,2008)

EDITORIAL: Law for leprosy patients



The Diet has enacted a law aimed at eliminating discrimination and prejudice against leprosy patients and ensuring that former patients living in national facilities once used for forced quarantine can spend the rest of their lives in peace.

No other disease has been misunderstood for as long as leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease. Although effective medications for the disease became available soon after the end of World War II, the Japanese government in 1953 enacted the Leprosy Prevention Law and continued to force patients to live in isolation. The law was finally annulled only 12 years ago.




(quarantine=隔離) (Annul=廃止する、効力を失わせる)

In 2001, the Kumamoto District Court ruled that the government's policy of forced isolation had become unconstitutional by 1960 at the latest. After the landmark ruling, the government admitted its responsibility for unnecessarily isolating leprosy patients from society and promised to ensure that all former patients will be able to live under conditions similar to those of regular society.


The new law was enacted in response to strong demand from residents of the state-run sanitariums following the ruling.



What is noteworthy about the legislation is a provision that makes the sanitariums and their premises available for use by outside people. It is designed to maintain the facilities over the long term while expanding exchanges between the former patients and local residents.


Against the backdrop lies the harsh reality surrounding these facilities.


The number of people living in the 13 state-run sanitariums for patients of Hansen's disease across the country has declined to about 2,700. At the peak, they housed more than 10,000.


The average age of the residents is now 79.5, and about 200 of them die every year. The number of staff members at these facilities is also diminishing gradually.


It is hardly surprising that concerns have grown among the former patients about the maintenance of the facilities for health-care and nursing services--and about the future of the sanitariums.


(hardly=ほとんど~しない) (hardly surprise=全く驚くことにならない)

Despite their wishes, these people are finding it increasingly difficult to return to society after decades of isolation. The idea of opening the facilities to the outside world has been proposed as a remedy to the situation. It is an attempt to enable the residents to "re-enter society" without actually leaving the facilities.


Under the government's plan for carrying out the idea, the sanitariums will be used to provide treatment for outside patients and serve as welfare facilities for the elderly, hospices or research labs. Increased exchanges with outside society will certainly help eliminate prejudices about the disease.



The plan, however, needs to be implemented with the greatest care and caution. There are wide differences from one sanitarium to the next in terms of geographic conditions and relations with the local communities.


Opening all of these facilities to outside society in a uniform way could make some of the former patients uneasy. The government should proceed with the plan based on the wishes of the people living in the facilities and the situations of the local communities.


The government is obliged to ensure that all those affected by a wrong policy will be able to live in the facilities without anxiety. But that alone will not be enough to prevent them from remaining segregated from society.



The entire society should try harder to avoid their isolation. To that end, greater efforts must be made to deepen understanding of Hansen's disease and remove prejudices against it.


It is impossible to return the time lost during forced segregation. At the very least, we must provide necessary support to allow the former patients to spend their remaining years peacefully.


(at the very least=せめて、最小限、少なくとも)

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 16(IHT/Asahi: June 17,2008)

朝日新聞 6月16日号 (英語版 2008年6月17日発行)


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