Leprosy

Since ancient times, leprosy has been one of the most abhorred diseases. According to Korean medical folklore, the disease could be transmitted directly by the sick or through "intermediate hosts" such as fish or chicken. It was also seen, however, as heaven's punishment for sins in this life or in previous lives. Even in the modern era, when leprosy appeared, superstitious people would say "an evil spirit remained in that house and caused disease in the descendants."

In the 1890s a few isolated cases of leprosy could be found in the general area of Seoul, but most patients came from the southern provinces. The disease generally progressed slowly, but according to

Avison (1897) it appeared in all the forms described in the textbooks.

Segregation laws were passed in the early twentieth century, but were not strictly enforced, primarily because facilities for isolation were not available. According to statistics gathered in the 1930s and 1940s, relief stations of an official and a private nature housed about 7,000 lepers, and medical workers estimated the number of lepers living outside these institutions to be another 7,000. These numbers, however, are probably grossly inaccurate, with the total number perhaps closer to 20,000. In the 1940s about 5,000 lepers lived in the government leper colony on Little Deer Island off the southern coast, and another 1,500 or so lived in mission-operated colonies. Gradually, public health policies, relief agencies, and improved living standards have reduced the number of lepers.

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