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See the bright light that Tala Hospital brings to leprosy patients

Facadé of the Tala Hospital located in Tala, Caloocan City North. (Photo Courtesy: Official website of the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium) 

“Hansen’s disease is merciless. It is undeniably unfortunate to have been a victim of this ruthless disease, and it has taken years of my life and altered my path in numerous ways.” 

This is how Susie Contemprato described what she had to go through after finding out that the festering wounds on her body and her decreasing energy were caused by Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy or ketong in Filipino. 

Susie Contemprato, the woman on the wheelchair, seeks medical care in Tala Leprosarium to conquer leprosy disease. (Photo Courtesy: Missionhurst Magazine)

She was once a patient at the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium (DJNRMHS) known as the Tala Leprosarium in Caloocan City. 

Contemprato shared her story back in 2013 to Father Paul Foulon, a former chaplain of the Leprosarium, 

Foulon, in turn, used her story to serve as an inspiration and a beacon of hope to other people suffering the disease. 

“I had trouble accepting that I had such a dreaded disease. When I noticed the deformities of the older patients, I did not want to be part of their grim world.  I told myself that I would rather die than look like them,” Contemprato recounted. 

It took a year of treatment before Contemprato’s wounds were healed. She had to undergo a series of extensive physical therapy in order to walk again as part of her recovery. However, her diagnosis which previously seemed like a death sentence has led the way for Contemprato to discover the transformative power of love and care from the people around her. 

“The healing process wasn’t just physical. My stay in the Tala hospital had also resulted in inner healing.  Tala became a home for me.  I appreciated the friendship and care of the hospital staff, fellow patients, church workers and many other people. Ultimately, I regained my self-respect and self-confidence,” she highlighted.  

With a strengthened resolve, Contemprato was able to regain her hope for the future. She eventually succeeded in reaching her dream to become a teacher after battling leprosy for nine years. 

Susie Contemprato (2R) graduates college with a degree in education. (Photo Courtesy: Missionhurst Magazine)

“I now realize that love can bloom and it can heal, in the most unexpected places, under the harshest of circumstances,” Contemprato remarked. 

Tala Hospital: Then and now 

Contemprato is just one of the many patients that Tala Hospital helped heal in the entire Luzon region. 

Established in 1940, the medical facility opened its doors during a time when leprosy cast a shadow of fear and ostracization. As a designated leprosarium, it provided a compassionate sanctuary for countless individuals battling the disease. 

Witnessing the dedication of medical personnel and the power of early research, the hospital saw a significant drop in leprosy cases by 1970. This success story was not just a medical breakthrough–it turned into an opportunity.

In a remarkable step, the hospital expanded its mandate to serve the broader community. It opened its doors to non-leprosy patients, transforming from a specialized center to a comprehensive healthcare provider. 

Today, DJNRMHS stands as a Level 3 licensed hospital, a designation signifying its excellence in patient care and commitment to advanced medical practices. It continues to serve as the premier training and research center for leprosy management in the Philippines, ensuring its expertise extends beyond its own walls. 

Simultaneously, it caters to the diverse healthcare needs of communities in North Caloocan, Bulacan and neighboring areas, offering a variety of medical services from general consultations to specialty care.

Ongoing threat

Hansen’s disease is a chronic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. It primarily affects the skin, nerves, and mucous membranes. Leprosy is not highly contagious and is usually transmitted through prolonged close contact with an infected person.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), leprosy, a neglected tropical disease (NTD), continues to affect people in over 120 countries. While significant progress has been made, new cases still emerge – around 200,000 each year.

The good news? Leprosy was eliminated as a public health problem globally in 2000 and most countries followed suit by 2010. This means that less than 1 person per 10,000 has the disease. The number of new cases has been steadily declining worldwide, including in all WHO regions.

In Tala Hospital, particularly, the number of leprosy cases per year significantly declined from 101 in 2012 to 26 in 2021. 

However, some areas still face significant challenges. As of 2019, three countries – Brazil, India, and Indonesia–reported over 10,000 new cases each. Thirteen others, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Myanmar, and the Philippines, saw between 1,000 and 10,000 new cases.

While strides have been made, eradicating leprosy requires continued vigilance and focused efforts in areas with high disease burden. Increasing access to early diagnosis and treatment, tackling stigma, and strengthening healthcare systems are crucial steps towards a completely leprosy-free future.

Early detection and treatment of leprosy are crucial to prevent severe complications and disabilities. Treatment typically involves a combination of antibiotics and other medications. With proper treatment, most people with leprosy can be cured and live a normal life. By working together, we can help eliminate leprosy and its associated stigma. 

Leprosy Control Week

In the Philippines, Leprosy Control Week is an annual observance that aims to raise awareness about leprosy and promote its prevention and control. It is held every last week of February in accordance with Proclamation No. 467, which was signed by then President Diosdado Macapagal in 1965.

During Leprosy Control Week, various activities are conducted to educate the public about the disease, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment. These activities may include seminars, workshops, lectures, and media campaigns. The week also serves as an opportunity to provide free or subsidized leprosy screening and treatment services to those in need.

This year, the Dermatology Department and Leprosy Care Service of the Tala Hospital partnered with the Philippine Dermatological Society to conduct an AFS (Acid Fast Staining) Demo and Training among dermatology residents. AFS is a test that can be used to diagnose leprosy. 

Dermatology residents from the Southern Isabela Medical Center (SIMC) Department of Dermatology and Venereology participate in AFS Demo facilitated by the Tala Hospital. (Photo Courtesy: Official Facebook page of the Southern Isabela Medical Center Department of Dermatology & Venereology)

The transformative initiative of the Tala Hospital also anchored the provision of lectures on the basic facts about leprosy among the new employees and other stakeholders of the hospital community. 

For its part, the Department of Health (DOH), through the Healthy Pilipinas campaign, extended an important message for Filipinos regarding leprosy and how we can be a better community by fostering sensitivity to the sufferers of the disease. 

“Ang leprosy ay nagagamot sa pamamagitan ng maagang konsultasyon, karampatang payo ng doktor, regular na pag-inom ng gamot, at suporta ng komunidad.

Ang mga taong may leprosy ay may karapatan sa isang marangal na buhay na malaya sa diskriminasyon,” the national health department underscored. 

(Leprosy is curable through early consultation, relevant medical opinion of a doctor, regular intake of medicine, and support of the community. Individuals afflicted with leprosy have the right to a decent life that is free from discrimination.) 

Related Article: 

DOH encourages patients with leprosy to complete treatment

Tala Hospital witnessed decades of change, evolving from a haven for leprosy patients to a beacon of healthcare to serve the evolving needs of the community.

Just like how Susie depicted her personal story, Tala Hospital is a living history itself for offering a reliable refuge to those in need of not only medical care but also social justice. 

Related Article: 

A story of humanity hides inside the Green Kapé

With its dedication to be of service, not only diseases like leprosy will be cured but also the indifference to humanity. (JMP/PIA-NCR)

About the Author

Janna Marie Pineda

Information Officer


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