Visit to former leprosy colony Mirueira General Hospital

Due to work carried out in the past between the NHR-Brazil and the Mirueira General Hospital, it was possible to visit the facilities of the hospital which was considered in the 50’s and 60’s as the largest colony of patients with Hansen’s disease of the state of Pernambuco.


Rossana4 hospital

The hospital is located on top of a hill and is isolated from the community by building a large wall around it. Nowadays this wall is jumped by the children of the area to be able to play on the green areas, something that a few years back nobody would dare to do, due to the fear of the patients who lived there. After entering the main gate, I see that there are some buildings with gardens and trees planted in front of it which was very different to the kind of hospital that I was expecting to find. Behind these gardens I met Ana Júlia who welcomes us. Ana Júlia is an occupational therapist and has a specialization in assisted technology. She is currently responsible for the neurological evaluation of Hansen’s disease patients and is also in charge of adapting footwear for these patients when they need it. Ana Júlia has worked in the hospital for ten years but has participated in activities with patients since 1996 when her mother was the director of the hospital.


500 patients

During the visit to the hospital, which looks like a small city, Ana Julia tells us that the hospital was inaugurated in August 1941 and that during the 50s and 60s it had up to 500 Hansen’s disease patients. Sometimes complete families arrived there to be hospitalized, other times it was just a patient whom was abandoned by the family in the hospital due to the law of isolation that the government had for patients with Hansen’s disease which was abolished in 1962. Many actions were taken during those years to prevent the spread of the disease, like the creation of their own currency, which was obtained by exchange of money they received for working in the hospital.

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'Villas do Casados'

Patients were placed in rooms with separate bathroom and the food was provided in a cafeteria for the ones without movement deficiencies. When a complete family had the disease, or new couples with Hansen’s disease started to live together, they were located in a "familiar house" called “Villas do Casados.” However, when one of the female patients became pregnant, she had to deliver the baby and give away to relatives outside the colony. As a preventive measure against contagion, the contact of the newborn with the mother was forbidden, to the point when sometimes it was not even possible that the parents could observe the baby.  


Abolishment of the mandatory stay

Nowadays, the situation of the hospital has changed a lot. The mandatory stay in the hospital was abolished since 1962, and although some of the patients decided to stay in the hospital because they had no family where to go, most of them only come back to the hospital to receive the treatment or the rehabilitation therapy. Many of them only managed to leave the hospital in 2007, when the government of Lula da Silva gave a pension to people who were isolated in the colonies.


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Special medical equipment

As a reference hospital, the Mirueira Hospital has medical equipment that other hospitals do not have, such as specialized services in orthopedics, dermatology, cardiology, vascular surgery, dentistry, pediatrics, and gynecology. They also offer rehabilitation services in physiotherapy, psychology, speech therapy and occupational therapy.


Some patients with Hansen’s disease, who live in other cities in the state, still attend the Mirueira Hospital to be diagnosed and to start treatment, due to the fear of being discriminated or stigmatized in their own neighborhoods. However, due to the mandatory notification of Hansen’s disease cases to the National Public Health System, the patients’ treatment is transferred to the unit of health where the patients belong. Because of this process, many patients stop their treatment after the first doses and do not have a proper follow-up, until they return to the Mirueira, sometimes with physical disabilities which could be prevented with the appropriate treatment.


3D printer for special footwear

Rossana4 shoe making

In the hospital they have still preserved the houses, the three churches (one Protestant, one Catholic and one Christian), the triage ward, the rehabilitation rooms, and the two nurseries (one for each gender) where the patients who don’t live in the hospital stay hospitalized during their treatment. There is also a private cemetery for patients of the hospital, a soccer field, an open room for social activities, a gym, and the kitchen where the food is distributed to all patients. One of the other main buildings is the shoe store where until a few months ago, footwear was made for patients who needed it. This project was performed due to the economic support provided by NLR-Brazil. Today it is only possible to make modifications to the footwear due to the lack of physical and human resources to make the footwear entirely. The hospital also has a 3D printer with which it is possible to make these modifications at a lower cost and according to the necessity of the patients.


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20 years of dedication

Thank you very much Ana Julia for sharing a part of the history with us and also for sharing these experiences over 20 years of work and dedication. The work performed by the hospital is invaluable for the patients with Hansen’s disease.



Blog written by Rossana,

Brazil, 21 July 2017






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