4 Nov 2011

Leprosy stigma persists a century after isolation island opened in Fiji

7:46 am on 4 November 2011

The head of the Pacific Leprosy Foundation says 100 years after an island in Fiji was opened to isolate people with leprosy, there is still a huge stigma attached to the disease.

Jill Tomlinson says a seminar at Te Papa museum in Wellington on Saturday will mark the centenary of Makogai Island's opening by the sisters of Mary to care for leprosy patients.

She says Makogai became home to over four thousand people with leprosy sent there from around the Pacific from 1911 until the 1960's when effective treatment became available.

She says while Makogai now only has a cemetery and a fisheries office, unfortunately the stigma about leprosy still continues.

"Maybe not as bad as it was but it is still the only disease where people that have it, have that connotation and feel themselves sometimes, that they're deserving of it and that because they have it, they can't have contact with other people, which of course is a myth. It's actually very hard to catch and once they're having treatment it's not longer contagious."

Jill Tomlinson says leprosy still exists in the Pacific with more than 200 people diagnosed with the condition over the past year in Kiribati alone.