Photographing leprosy in the Philippines

In 2003, I visited two leprosy clinics in the Philippines, run by the Philippine Leprosy Mission. One is located near the capital, Manilla, the other operates outside of the second largest city, Cebu City.

Leprosy is not considered a major global health priority, relative to much more serious infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, or mosquito-borne malaria. Still the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 200,000 persons, mostly in Africa and Asia, are infected. It’s a bacterial disease, and has been reported well before the time of Christ. The disease mainly affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and also the eyes. Leprosy is curable and treatment provided in the early stages averts lifelong disability. If it is not caught, it can cause progressive and permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. That is the leprosy in the popular imagination. It is the disease that causes deep fear because it is misunderstood.

My photographs were shared with the American Leprosy Mission, which supports these two missions. These were the final product of my trip. The project grew out of a relationship I developed with a Seattle-area physician, working to raise funds to help permanently eliminate the disease, in conjunction with the American Leprosy Mission and supporters in the Philippines.

The two photographs shown here were taken at the Eversly Childs Sanitarium, near Cebu City, on the island of Cebu. The facility is home to patients suffering from leprosy, and their children, like the young girls laughing below. Patients served by the Philippines Leprosy Mission are engaged in a variety of activities, including trades that help them earn a living, including this man. This was not my greatest work, and wish I had spent more time getting to meet the residents. This was parachute documentary work, and it shows. However, I think the photos presented residents as themselves, living their lives to their fullest. While outside support is critical to this mission, the place is ably run by Filipino professionals. I remember these smiling young ladies the most. Wonderful people.

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