International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy


    The Portuguese colonial health services in the twentieth century had an active and ongoing program for the treatment of leprosy and other contagious diseases in the African colonies (Mozambique, Angola, Guinea Bissau and São Tomé and Princípe) until 1975 and in the Indian colonies (Goa, Damão and Diu) until 1961.  Much of the medical literature resulting from this effort — reports on treatments; patient statistics for various areas — has been published in Portuguese medical journals.  The Anais do Instituto de Medicina Tropical is one such journal.  Modern hospitals and government institutions in Lisbon hold much of the documentation on leprosy for the 20th century.

    Associação Portuguesa Amigos de Raoul Follereau (APARF)

    This charitable organisation was founded in 1987 to deal with leprosy cases in Portugal. The establishment of an organisation of this nature was not possible before this time due to the existence of dictatorial rule in Portugal which lasted until 1974. While leprosy cases were treated throughout the post-war period at the Rovisco Pais treatment centre in northern Portugal, since the 1980s there was a continuing need to provide support (financial as well as emotional) to sufferers, and this was the need that APARF aimed to meet. They exist as a ‘solidarity’ organisation that provides support to leprosy sufferers (e.g. take patients to hospital, etc.). They also fund projects to combat leprosy in different parts of the world, the finances for these being provided overwhelmingly by donations.

    The interest of this organisation for researchers lies in the records it has kept from its inception. These consist of correspondences and reports relating to the work carried out in Portugal and throughout the world to develop hospitals and provide treatment for patients. The records are interesting particularly because of the details provided by individual people and institutions that have applied to the APARF for financial assistance. The director is keen to allow researchers full access to these records.


    Gafaria, the medieval Portuguese word for leprosarium: The word for leprosy is gafa. When researchers are conducting their searchers in Portuguese archives and libraries it is thus advisable that they search catalogues and finding aids for gafaria. It would appear that from around the 18th century gafaria became less used, replaced instead by words like lazareto and leprosaria.

    The following provide two examples of definitions of gafaria found in historical dictionaries.

    Joel Serrão, Dicionario da Historia de Portugal, p. 91: “Parece que as nossas gafarias obedeciam a 3 tipos de governo: as criadas pela iniciativa do rei, dirigidas por representantes seus; as municipais (Braga, Guimarães, Lisboa, etc); e as estabelecidas pelos proprios gafos e por eles administrados que recebiam dos reis especiais atenções.”

    Santana & Sucena (eds.), Dicionario da Historia de Lisboa, pp. 427-28: “Gafaria de Lisboa (designação de Silva Correia). Das gafarias existentes em Lisboa, e seu termo, é esta a mais antiga de que se tem conhecimento.”

    Located in Freguesia dos Martires, founded before the Portuguese nation was formed in 12th century; after its demise, people with leprosy were sent to the Gafaria de São Lazaro which was founded prior to 1220; a gafaria existed in Odivelas (Loures) and Sacavem.

    Useful references:

    Maximiano Lemos, Historia da Medicina em Portugal

    Fernando Silva Correia, Hospitais Medievais Portugueses