International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Uzuakoli Leprosy Research Unit


    Category Hospital/Research Institute
    Country Nigeria


    The work at Uzuakoli, Port Harcourt, was begun by the Methodist Missionary Society in 1932. It was founded by Dr James Kinnear Brown when he was sent by the Missionary Society to organise leprosy work at the invitation of the Nigerian Government. Dr T F Davey was the medical superintendent of the Leper Colony and the General Hospital from 1936-1959.

    In 1938, he wrote about the work there to the secretary of the Mission to Lepers: "The Uzuakoli Leper Colony, Nigeria, is a modern and efficient institution financed by the Native Administration with the cooperation of the Methodist Missionary Society which is responsible for the religious and social welfare of the patients. There are now 1100 of these living in the colony and during the last four years, probably 5 000 people have been refused admission. During 1937 the first accurate leprosy surveys were undertaken in the neighbourhood, and a state of affairs in the villages was revealed which is presenting a serious problem and a great challenge.… There is an incidence of 3% or more over a wide area, and in the Owerri Province alone there are probably 50 000 lepers, for whom the Uzuakoli Colony constitutes the only means of assistance. Only 1 in 50 is thus segregated, and we have seen many cases of leprosy in the villages in a serious state of neglect and needing hospitalisation."

    In the Owerri Province Leper Settlement Annual Report: Uzuakoli, Davey wrote:

    "The year 1939 has been the most remarkable year in the history of the colony. It has seen the inception of a far reaching scheme of Leprosy control work which has more than doubled the number of patients receiving treatment and has extended the influence of the Colony to a remerkable degree … " The adoption of the scheme has, he continues "affected every phase of the life of the Colony and has considerably altered the outlook for leprosy work in the Province. The Uzuakoli Colony is no longer a large isolated unit, but rather, as Dr Muir stated in his report after his visit, it is the hub of a wheel which is radiating in all directions."

    In 1939, Davey reported in Leprosy Control in the Owerri Province: First Report on Control Work Undertaken by the Staff of the Provincial Leper Settlement, Uzuakoli on survey work that was being conducted. He wrote "These figures give some idea of the immensity of the problem to be faced. Approximately one sixteenth of the total population of the Bende Division has been examined. The areas examined may be considered as representative of the Division and a leprosy incidence of approximately 7 000 must be considered a conservative estimate for this Division alone."

    In 1943, the report states that "The year 1942 has witnessed further wide expansion of the work of the Uzuakoli Settlement. Clinics operating at the commencement of the year have become firmly established, and with 15 clinics opened during the year, regular leprosy treatment is now being given at 44 centres, and over 11 000 patients are being treated every week. The shortage of hydnocarpus oil has often rendered the maintenance of treatment very difficult, but in spite of the enforced low dosage, 112 patients have been discharged symptom free from clinics and 60 from Central Settlement."

    In 1944, the report outlined the use of the clan, as the basis for leprosy control: "In working for leprosy control in the province, the first principle adopted is the localisation of the leprosy problem to each clan. The clan is the natural social unit. When adopting a program which calls for a great deal of self help, the clan may be ready to assist where its own families are concerned, but ususally resists the intrusion of lepers from other clans. We therefore plan leprosy control on a clan basis, rigidly excluding outsiders, but demanding within the clan the full cooperation of each family."

    In 1952, Dr John Lowe wrote “I am now deeply involved in a big study of immunity and cross immunity in leprosy and tuberculosis, using the lepromin test, the tuberculin test and BCG vaccination with a study of its influence on the results of the two tests.”

    The annual reports for 1955 (in the its capacity as the Nigeria Leprosy Service Research Unit and reports from 1959-65, in its capacity as the Ministry of Health Eastern Nigeria: Leprosy Research Unit, Uzuakoli, are held at The Leprosy Mission (TLM) International, Brentford.

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