International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Academia Nacional de Medicina


    Category Hospital/Research Institute
    Country Brazil
    Address Avenida General Justo 365, 8o andar - Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


    The Academia Nacional de Medicina (National Academy of Medicine) in Rio de Janeiro holds numerous documents pertaining to leprosy, including manuscripts and published articles dating from the mid-nineteenth century, from Annaes de Medicina Brasiliense.

    The published articles in Annaes de Medicina Brasiliense date from 1845 to 1849. They include the following:

    Minutes of general meetings of the Academy.

    In a meeting on 10 April 1845, Dr Paula Candido refused to hand over patients from the Hospital dos Lázaros in Rio to Dr Faivre, who praised the thermal baths of Caldas Novas as a treatment for leprosy. Dr Candido called for monitoring of Dr Faivre’s work, and raised objections to providing a place for leprosy patients to take the waters, due to the lack of positive effects and high cost of the treatment.

    On 28 August 1845, during a general meeting, doctors discussed Dr Simoni’s report regarding the work of Dr Faivre on thermal baths. Opinion was divided on the extent to which this treatment was effective against leprosy. In addition, the prohibition of marriage among leprosy patients was mooted, so as to prevent an increase in the number of sufferers. The possible link between syphilis and leprosy was also discussed.

    In a meeting on 26 March 1846, a decree from the Ministério dos Negócios do Império was under discussion, which contained a request from the Emperor to know more about the use of guano in treating “elefantíase dos gregos”. Some of the doctors present admitted to not knowing much about this, and suggested the creation of a commission for its study. Dr Paula Candido had doubts on the usefulness of the substance, but agreed to the commission.

    In the general session of 27 April 1848, the Secretary of State for the Negócios do Império reported on a Frenchman in Itapetininga, São Paulo, who cured leprosy using a remedy that he had discovered. The Frenchman claimed that sufferers of leprosy and tuberculosis harbour minute organisms, which are eliminated by way of an intense perspiration, provoked by his medication.


    In a report of June 1845, Dr Faivre concluded that after researching the effects of thermal baths on leprosy, they are ineffective in curing it, but do have a positive result on patients’ mental health and hygiene. On being questioned on the nature of leprosy, he attributed it to a virus and linked it to syphilis. Further study on the effects of this treatment was proposed. In a report to the government, published in the Annaes on 6 November 1845, Dr Francisco Paula Machado highlighted the importance of Dr Faivre’s reports on thermal baths and leprosy, but concluded that there was not enough information to form an opinion. He suggested that the government should subsidise the studies, and supported the idea of treatment trials on some patients from Hospital dos Lázaros in Rio de Janeiro. He objected to a leprosy institution being created in Caldas Novas due to the costs involved.

    On 20 March 1844 (published in the Annaes of July 1845), Antonio Muniz de Souza described treating a case of advanced leprosy with chá de japecanga (a tea made from the japecanga plant), and claimed that symptoms of pain and inflammation were diminished. Dr Faivre added that Sr Muniz presented an incomplete description of the case, but that the use of the plant should be studied. Dr Simoni disagreed.

    An article published on 9 July 1848 by Dr M A de M Albuquerque Pitta relates to the use of the Assacu tree (Hura Brasiliensis de Martius), native to the state of Pará. This had been used for some time in the treatment of leprosy. Of particular mention in this field are Drs Gama Malcher and Paula Cavalcanti. Also described are pills, made and administered by a Frenchman living in São Paulo, which apparently have good effects, but more study is needed.

    Other notices

    In the October 1848 publication of Annaes de Medicina Brasiliense, there is a short notice regarding a letter from the province of Campinas in São Paulo, relating the case of a patient who was apparently completely cured of leprosy by the internal use of “purgantes do Andauaçú” [Andauaçú purgatives].

    An short article in Notícias Diversas of November 1848 informs that Assacu was used in São Lázaro Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal. There were no significant results, but more time is needed before any changes in the cases can be seen. A detailed list is included, showing recipes and uses of medicines with this plant as a base. Another notice in the same publication states that the Academia Nacional de Medicina and the chemistry commission of the Sociedade Pharmaceutica de Lisboa are analysing the Assacu plant.

    Entry updated January 2016


    Name Adriana Cordeiro
    Organization Academia Nacional de Medicina
    Address Academia Nacional de Medicina, Avenida General Justo 365, 8o andar - Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
    Telephone +55 21 2524 2034
    Fax +55 21 2524 2034

    Go back to previous page.