News

10 to 15 new leprosy cases a year

In 1899, an act was passed, making it compulsory to isolate leprosy patients.

A leper camp was built in 1926 for this purpose. The camp was renamed the Trafalgar Home in 1950.

In 1971, another home for leprosy patients, run by the Singapore Leprosy Relief Association (Silra), was built at Lorong Buangkok.

As living conditions improved and the disease was under control, the Act was repealed in 1976.

The Trafalgar Home became the Trafalgar Unit in 1983 when it came under the purview of the old Woodbridge Hospital and Middle Road Hospital - the predecessor of the National Skin Centre (NSC).

The unit was closed in June 1992 and the remaining residents were moved to the Silra home.

Silra president, Dr Seow Chew Swee, told The New Paper that about 8,500 cases of leprosy cases have been recorded in Singapore since the registration of leprosy began in 1951.

He said over the past five years, the centre treated about 10 to 15 new leprosy patients every year.

FOREIGNERS

He added: "They consist of two to three Singaporeans, and between 10 and 12 migrant workers and residents from countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar."

Dr Seow said Singaporean leprosy patients are usuallyover 50 years old.

"Most of them caught the infection between 20 and 30 years ago as leprosy has a very long incubation period."

The bacteria-borne disease is transmitted from one person to another through breathing or skin-to-skin contact.

If untreated, the skin of leprosy patients becomes red and lumpy, and tends to break out in ulcers.

Dr Seow said: "The affected nerves stop functioning and the muscles they control are unable to move the body parts, resulting in disabilities.

"Prolonged damage results in wasting of the muscles and eventual permanent physical disability."

It takes between six months and two years of regular treatment to cure a patient of leprosy. A month's worth of medication at government hospitals costs about $30.