International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

  • International Leprosy Association -
    History of Leprosy

    Sungai Buloh (Malaysia)

    Sungai Buloh settlement, 1932

    Sungai Buloh settlement, 1932

    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 also became a centre of research that included the first trials with dapsone in Malaysia (1948-49), trials of alternative drugs, development of the morphological index, and investigations into drug resistance.

    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.

    Sungai Buloh outdoor cinema, 1932

    Sungai Buloh outdoor cinema, 1932

    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, for ten years. In 1976, the first case of primary resistance was detected. By then the “animal house” had been developed to carry out footpad investigations, the first time this was done in Asia.

    For fourteen years, up until August 1981, a collaborative project between the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the British Medical Research Unit produced one hundred publications 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.

    For the story of the battle to save this unique site, see:

    A Valley Where Birds and Insects Sing for Hope: Stories of Sungai Buloh Leprosy Settlement, compiled by Chou Wen Loong and Loh Choy Mun (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Save Valley of Hope Solidarity Group, 2010)

    See the blog:

    YouTube Video: The Everlasting Valley of Hope

    Resident's bedroom at Sungai Buloh, 1931

    Resident’s bedroom at Sungai Buloh, 1931

    For stories of the people who made Sungai Buloh their home, see:

    Ean Nee Tan and Joshua Wong, Translated by Khor Jiak Liang, The Way Home: The Isolated Emotional World of Former Leprosy Patients and Their Descendants (Kulala Lumpur, Malaysia: Perpustakaan Negara, Malaysia, 2012).

    For scholarly literature, see:

    Loh Kah Seng. Making and Unmaking the Asylum: Leprosy and Modernity in Singapore and Malaysia. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2009.