When the new Settlement at Sungai Buloh was officially opened in 1930, it was practically the largest and most modern leprosarium in the British Commonwealth. The Culion Island Settlement in the Philippines with its population of around 6,000, established some 20 years earlier was certainly the largest in the world, but Sungai Buloh was the most impressive because of its scenic setting and its modern buildings and facilities. It was also destined to leave its impress on the leprosy world by becoming in later years a noted center of research. Even as early as the 30s Sungai Buloh was in the news as a center of research when the first notable drug trials with “dyes” were carried out. Though this search among aniline dyes for an alternative to the hydnocarpus oil then in wide use as the only effective remedy, proved unsuccessful, we may recall here that one of the most effective drugs in use today is clofazimine, which is derived from a rimino-phenazine dye.
It was actually around 1932 that Sungai Buloh became a modern center of treatment and research. Since then a good deal of work has been done. The first trials with dapsone in Malaysia (1948-49) were carried out in this leprosarium. Trials of alternative drugs formed a major part of the investigations. The development of the morphological index was an achievement in which Sungai Buloh played a major role. So too the investigations into drug resistance, when Dr J H S Pettit was director of the Research Institute. In 1964-1965, in a collaborative project with the British Medical Research Institute in London, Dr R J W Rees and Dr John H S Pettit provided definite proof of dapsone resistance in three patients in Sungai Buloh, using the mouse footpad inoculation method.
In 1966 Dr M R P Waters, who had previously in charge of the Sungai Buloh “unit” from 1959 to 1962, returned to succeed Dr Pettit as director of the Research Unit, to spend ten fruitful years. In 1976, the first case of primary resistance was detected. By then the “animal house” at Sungei Buloh had been developed to carry out footpad investigations, the first time this was done in Asia.
During the fourteen years until August 1981, when this collaborative project between the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the British Medical Research Unit continued some one hundred papers were published by members of the research unit staff in various medical and scientific journals. A. Joshua-Raghavar, Leprosy in Malaysia: Past, Present and Future, ed. Dr K Rajagopalan (A Joshua-Raghavar: Sungai Buluh, Selangor, West Malaysia, 1983): 8-9.
BELRA/LEPRA workers associated with Sungei Buloh as as follows:
Dr Gordon Ryrie, doctor, 1928-1942
Dr F S Airey, doctor, 1950-1951
Dr David Molesworth, doctor, 1951-1956
Miss M E Peters, research secretary, 1952
Information supplied by LEPRA
(Also listed under Research Institutes).