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The Sanatorium Francisco de Borja: A place of refuge for those affected by leprosy in Spain

June 2, 2017

Find out about the history and work of Fontilles, an ILEP member.

Back in 1902, Father Carlos Ferris, a Jesuit priest, and Joaquin Ballester, a lawyer, came together with a common goal; to help and support those affected by leprosy in Spain. Seven years later on the 17th of January 1909, the Sanatarium Francisco de Borja opened its doors to eight people affected by leprosy.

From 1909 until the 1940s, there was no cure for leprosy like there is today. People would enter the Sanatorium and leave only when they died. In those days people were shunned by their families and communities as leprosy was wrongly thought to be both incurable and incredibly contagious.

These false beliefs and stigma and discrimination were never far from the centre however. Surrounding the Sanatorium is a high wall which was constructed for the benefit of people from villages in the surrounding area. They were afraid of catching leprosy themselves.

The advent of dapsone, the first successful leprosy treatment, changed this, and patients of the Sanatorium were for the first time offered the opportunity to attend workshops to learn a professions, preparing them to re-enter life outside of its walls.

Despite what you may think, the Sanatorium was no dull hospital, remembers Pedro, who began working there in 1982. It was more like a small village, with a vibrancy and life of its own. “Back in the day”, ┬áit was hard to get to the Sanatorium so every day necessities, and leisure activities, were catered for. A barbers, shoemakers, theatre and cinema, a bar (run by the patients), a small football court, a church and a kitchen were all available. To earn some money on the side, the Sanatorium also grew oranges and olives to sell, but to ensure they were sold and not rejected they had to keep their origin a secret.

Nowadays, with leprosy eradicated in Spain, the Sanatorium is primarily used as a geriatric hospital. Although, the Sanatorium is still home to around 30 former leprosy patients and around 50-60 former patients recieve regular check-ups there. Newly diagnosed patients are treated as out-patients, of which there are currently 20 at this time, and are also offered regular check-ups during and after completing their treatment.

The organisation’s mission mission has not changed and Fontilles’ goal is still to raise awareness of leprosy, while treating those who suffer from it. Around the world they have 26 active projects aimed at improving health conditions, tackling leprosy and other NTDs like Chagas disease. A major part of their work is enacting the vision that no person affected by leprosy suffers marginalisation or rejection by their society.

Learn more about Fontilles and their work here.