What Life Is Like for China's 20K Lepers

Survivors inhabit 600 isolated, if relatively normal, colonies
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2011 6:15 PM CST
Chinese lepers at D'Arcy Island, British Columbia, Canada in 1980.   (Wikimedia Commons)

(Newser) – It may seem unbelievable, but 20,000 Chinese citizens live in isolated colonies for people who suffer an ancient, debilitating disease: leprosy. More than 600 state-run colonies exist throughout China, usually separated from society by nature—the government took care to build them on islands, mountaintops, or generally inaccessible locations. Though the government stopped forcibly detaining people affected with leprosy in 1980—the US only stopped doing so in 1960—the colonies retain many of their inhabitants who, after years, have lost their connections to the outside world.

Slate describes life in one of the colonies, which house between 25 and 100 people in a small village of straw or mud-brick houses. Many inhabitants have lost mobility or dexterity to their leprosy, though some, who received treatment early, farm small plots or raise fish. Only 3% of residents are infectious, and the healthy but affected are joined by at least 5,000 healthy spouses and children.

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