International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    Dr Ruzar Briffa

    Status Physician
    Country Malta


    Rużar Briffa (16 January 1906 - 22 February 1963) was a Maltese dermatologist. Today, he is mainly remembered as a poet and a major figure in Maltese literature.

    As a young man, Briffa obtained a teaching certificate and briefly taught in elementary schools. In 1924, he began studying medicine at the Royal University of Malta. He received the Strachan Travelling Scholarship, which he used to complete part of his study at the London Institute of Dermatology.

    As a student, Briffa was active in pro-Maltese politics and cofounded the University Maltese Library Society (Ghaqda tal-Malti Università), which remains active today. He edited the society's journal, Voice of the Maltese (Lehen il-Malti) and began publishing nationalist poems.

    He qualified as a doctor in 1931 and proceeded to specialise in dermatology, especially skin diseases. In 1938, he was appointed Leprosy Control Officer in Malta, and gained first-hand experience in the treatment of leprosy through studying at the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine and visiting various leprosaria in India.

    In 1944, he became visiting physician to St Bartholomew Leper Hospital. He kept up to date with the latest developments in leprosy treatment and used his knowledge of new and innovative treatment protocols to improve the lives of the inmates. He fought against Malta's forced isolation of lepers, and this led to the regulation being abolished in 1953.

    In 1950, Briffa was appointed senior consultant in skin diseases at the Central Hospital and Chambray Hospital, and was nominated honorary skin disease specialist at the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children. He also became Lecturer in Dermatology and Venerology at the University of Malta, a post he occupied until his death from throat cancer in 1963.

    Briffa was known for his kindness and deep empathy in dealing with patients. His experience with leprosy informed his poetry; his poems often express his sadness over human suffering and his desire to beautify disfigured patients suffering from the disease. A compilation of his literary work was edited by and published in 198. His wife, Luisette Briffa, donated her husband's papers to the University of Malta in 1998. A digitised version of the papers is available on CD-ROM from the University of Malta's library.

    He has been recognised posthumously for his accomplishments. In 1973, St Bartholomew Leper Hospital was renamed Sptar Rużar Briffa in recognition of his role in the fight against leprosy in Malta. The government of Malta issued a postage stamp in his honour in 1980.


    Bluefarb, S M. Dermatologists on postage stamps (Hulusi Behçet, Ruzar Briffa). International journal of dermatology Volume: 21 Issue: 1 Page: 54. 01.01.1982

    'Briffa, Ruzar'. In M J Sciavone, L.J. Scerri (eds.): Maltese Biographies of the Twentieth Century. PIN, Malta, 1997, p.93-94.

    Cassar, P. 'A Torch-Bearer in the Control of Leprosy'. Sunday Times ( Malta), February 26 1995, p.59.

    Savona-Ventura, Charles. 'Ruzar Briffa's contribution to leprology.' Times of Malta. 29 January 2006. Online.

    Shampo, Marc A., and Mark DP Davis. "Dermatologists honored on stamps." Archives of dermatology 142.11 (2006): 1489-1492.


    St Bartholomew's Hospital   Dr Ruzar Briffa began in 1932 as a houseman in skin diseases; From 1936-37, he worked as an assistant medical officer at the Lazaretto Isolation Hospital; In 1938, he worked as an assistant medical officer in charge of the Department of Skin and Sexually-Transmitted Diseases and as a leprosy control officer; In 1944, he was visiting physician to St Bartholomew's Leprosy Hospital and in 1950, he was appointed senior consultant in skin diseases at the Central Hospital and Chambray Hospital. He was also nominated honorary skin disease specialist at the Malta War Memorial Hospital for Children. In 1950, he occupied the post of lecturer in dermatology and venerology at the university.
    National Archives of Malta  

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