KUCHING: The 92-year-old Rajah Charles Brooke Memorial (RCBM) Leprosarium, one of only two settlements for those with Hansen’s Disease in the country, has been listed by Sarawak Museum Department to be gazetted as a heritage site.
Plans are afoot to transform the facility, located at 13th mile near here, into an open-air museum and becoming part of the tourism trail in the Padawan district.
“There is a rich history associated with the Charles Brooke Memorial Hospital that needed to be preserved. We would like to thank Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah for recognising the site as an important part of history.
“Demolishing the hospital would destroy 92 years of history,” Padawan Municipal Council chairman Lo Khere Chiang told reporters after announcing plans to gazette the leprosarium as a heritage site.
The Batu Kitang assemblyman said the state fully supported the move, and expressed hope the open-air-concept museum could be completed and opened to the public by 2025, in conjunction with its centenary celebration.
Lo said a Chaulmoogra park would be set up at the site. Seed oil from Chaulmoogra (Hydnocarpus wightiana) fruits are widely used for the treatment of leprosy patients before the introduction and recommendation of a multi-drug treatment (MDT) programme – a combination of three drugs namely dapsone, rifampicin and clofazimine – by the World Health Organisation in 1981.
Today, one Chaulmoogra tree as old as the leprosarium still stands at the site.
The Sarawak Biodiversity Centre has managed to produce seedlings for this species that is indigenous in China, India and Egypt.
Heritage Society of RCBM Hospital president Angelina Jong lauded the gazettement effort to tell the stories of leprosy patients and the struggles they had to endure amid the stigma and ostracism by society in the past.
RCBM Leprosarium, once gazetted as a heritage site, will cover 59 buildings and sites covering 8ha of area including the off-site houses of worship, graveyards and discreet houses built by patients in the jungles nearby so they could be in constant contact with their families.
“Throughout the years, we had patients from China, Kalimantan, Brunei and Sabah.
“Today, only six patients remain in this hospital – they are all male, aged between 60 and 80 years old, but all are fully cured from the disease.
“They continue to stay here because they have nowhere to go and lost contact with their families,” Jong said.
Stories to tell of lepers enduring stigma and ostracism