Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement

By Jane. Buckingham | Go to book overview

4
Leprosy Treatment: Indigenous and British Approaches

In the British medical tradition leprosy was believed to be incurable and, despite the promise of gurjon oil and other late-nineteenth-century treatments, it remained so until the discovery of Dapsone in the 1940s. The lack of any specific British treatment for leprosy was, particularly prior to the publication of Danielssen and Boeck's findings in 1848, partly due to uncertainty as to what actually constituted the disease, and, until Hansen's discovery of the leprosy bacillus in 1875, partly to ignorance of its true cause. In the Siddha tradition, however, some forms of leprosy were regarded as curable, probably because some of the diseases classified as leprosy were not forms of leprosy at all and were responsive to Siddha treatments. The Kaṉmakāṇṭam, attributed to Agastyar, advised the leprosy sufferer that if he or she ‘listens to the doctor and does all that he says, death can be averted’. According to the Citta maruttuvam, ten forms of leprosy were incurable, while ‘the rest may be cured with proper treatment, medication and the disciplining of body and mind’. 1

Neither the British nor the Indian traditions had any specific medicinal cure for leprosy. Rather, both employed treatments used for a range of conditions regarded as skin diseases, especially syphilis. The clear separation of leprosy from venereal disease did not occur in either Europe or India until well into the nineteenth century. It was not until the early twentieth century that the presence of acid-fast Mycobacterium leprae was identified, finally allowing a bacterial diagnosis of leprosy. This was a valuable adjunct to diagnosis of cutaneous symptoms and could prevent misdiagnosis of venereal

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