[FOUNTAIN]A curable diseaseA lawmaker, Shin Jung-sik, is from the famous Shin family of Goheung, South Jeolla Province. His elder brother, the late Shin Hyong-sik, was the secretary general of the Democratic Republican Party and minister of construction and transportation. However, the most respected member of the Shin family might be the late Shin Jeong-sik, the eldest brother. He believed that Hansen’s disease could be cured. With that belief, he trimmed patients’ fingernails and toenails and devoted himself as the director of the national hospital on Sorok Island for 20 years. Now the Sorok Island, where people who had Hansen’s disease were quarantined, has finally become an island for human beings.
Lee Chung-jun’s novel, “Your Heaven,” is based on the real story of Sorok Island. The Japanese director of the hospital, Masato Suho, was the model for Ju Jeong-su, the fictional director. Director Suho built a statue of himself and urged people to worship it. In 1942, a patient Lee Chun-sang killed the director and he was executed the next year.
Zenkichi Hanai was another Japanese person on Sorok Island. He was granted religious freedom after coming in 1921 and looking after patients for eight years. He refused a stone monument. But the patients built one for him after he died. During a period of eliminating the remains of the Japanese imperialism, the patients hid the monument underground and later placed it in its original spot.
Thus there is no racial discrimination on Sorok Island.
At times, patients were locked in a confinement room and given vasectomies by force. The fear of infection banned patients from meeting their children.
The Hansen’s patients forcibly quarantined during Japanese imperial rule are having a hard time receiving compensation.
The Japanese government asks for evidence, but since most records disappeared after Japan lost the war, it is almost impossible. Until now, only two have received compensation.
It is too embarrassing to just blame the Japanese. Hansen’s disease is a third-class epidemic with low infectiousness.
Just by using the treatment Rifampicin once, the disease is 99.99 percent sterilized and after two years of mixed remedies, the disease can be completely cured.
However, more than 20,000 Hansen’s patients are still isolated in 88 locations. The special law for Hansen’s disease remains unsettled at the Assembly.
Now that the bridge connecting the island and the mainland is almost completed, Sorok Islanders ask: “Where is our heaven?”
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.