Colonizing Leprosy: Imperialism and the Politics of Public Health in the United States

By Michelle T. Moran | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Negotiating an End to Segregation

Carville patient activists prodded doctors to publicize the beneficial effects of sulfone drugs in the years following World War II, hoping to use them as a tool toward ending segregation. Dr. G. H. Faget, Carville’s medical director, instead saw these promising treatments as a means to lure new patients to the institution while maintaining a policy of mandatory confinement and isolation. In the September 1946 issue of The Star, he hailed Promin, Diasone, and Promizole as “helpful drugs in the treatment of Hansen’s disease” that could—”with time”—”restore the health of many patients.” Faget’s appeal blended enticing images of the facility with sober preaching about the risk of contagion. After depicting Carville as a hospital with “all the comforts of a first-class hotel,” he admonished prospective patients that they “should realize that they are a menace to their families.” For Faget, drug therapies and institutional isolation were inherently linked. “In this hospital alone will you find all of the facilities for the administration of the sulfa drugs that combat Hansen’s disease,” he wrote. “You will be given the advantage of all that modern medical science has to offer you. Come and your hope will be born anew!”1 If the postwar era offered new promise for people with Hansen’s disease, that promise still depended upon institutional confinement, according to medical administrators such as Faget.

The questions of what “modern medical science” could offer patients and where it would be offered proved crucial to defining HD policy in the postwar era. It is tempting to view the development of HD drug therapies as the key to ending the segregation of patients with Hansen’s disease, but drugs alone did not loosen or terminate this policy. Rather, the reverse was true— innovations in treatment initially intensified institutional control over patients. As Barron Lerner has shown in his study of Seattle’s Skid Road tuberculosis patients, institutions in the postwar era simultaneously became the focus of disease eradication efforts and emerged as the best places to monitor patients undergoing drug therapy.2 Physicians and hospital admin-

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