A brief visit to the leprosy island
First published on Lakdasun Trips, May 2015
We reached Batticaloa and took off towards Vavunathivu. Just before the long bridge across the lagoon, there was a Navy checkpoint and the marines who were there helped us by calling the boatman of the hospital.
After 15 minutes, the boatman arrived and took us towards Mantheevu, the “leprosy island”. Nalinda and I being doctors, we were somewhat curious about this hospital, which was once an asylum to leprosy patients in Sri Lanka. It was opened in the early 1920s with five hundred patients. It has been functioning as a mini town in the past with a police station, post office, kovil, temple, church and many other buildings. Some patients even had individual two roomed cabins! Today, except for two wards, few minor staff quarters and the main administrative building, the hospital has been sacrificed to the forest.
There were three friendly patients living in this asylum. Currently there are few minor staff and a nurse to care for them and they are taken to Batticaloa teaching hospital monthly for clinics or when they are ill. We felt sorry for these patients because they have not seen anything in this world other than this island and the Batticaloa town despite being disease free for many years. The unwanted social stigma around some diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis is so unacceptable.
This island has its own stories. If one is interested in listening to them, I recommend the boatman who has been living close to Mantheevu since 1981. The visit to the leprosy island was indeed shocking but we were happy that we did visit it. My kind request is to not go there in big groups since this is a hospital and you must respect the patients' rights and privacy. ※
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