By Juan Escandor Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
9:47 pm | Wednesday, April 4th, 2012
CABUSAO, Camarines Sur–Maria Dichoso Rull, 83, has nothing more to ask in life; she is contented living inside a hospital ward and her children never fail to visit her.
Rull, a person afflicted with leprosy (PAWL) or Hansen’s disease, has been under government care for 76 years now. She was only 7 years old when the “Sanidad,” accompanied by policemen, took her from her house in Bacon town in Sorsogon in 1936 so she could be cured. Her parents had kept her from health authorities because of her affliction, she said.
Since then, she has lived all her life inside a leprosarium in Cabusao town in Camarines Sur. She married and became a widow, raised her three children—now aged 62, 59 and 57, all of whom are married and none afflicted with leprosy—and had decided to spend her remaining years at the facility.
“This is where I will die,” Rull said casually, showing a big smile. “In 2000, a relative came here and asked me to get my birth certificate in my hometown to claim my inheritance. I declined because it will be tiring and expensive because you have to file a case. I am contented here.”
The 380-hectare Bicol sanitarium in Barangay San Pedro, Cabusao, is one of eight facilities in the Philippines for lepers or persons infected with the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria that attack nerve endings, resulting to disfigured extremities, nose, face, limbs and fingers.
The others are the Culion Sanitarium in Palawan, Tala Leprosarium in Caloocan City, Eversley Childs Sanitarium in Cebu City, Western Visayas Sanitarium in Iloilo City, Jolo (Sulu) Sanitarium, Mindanao Central Sanitarium in Zamboanga City and Cotabato Sanitarium in Cotabato City.
Established on Sept. 19, 1929 as the Bicol Treatment Station by virtue of Act 1711 of the Philippine Commission, the leprosarium in Bicol was first situated at the Reagan Barracks in Legazpi City in Albay with 40 patients. It was renamed the Bicol Sanitarium on April 19, 1949, and transferred to Cabusao.
Rull is one of 110 PAWLs under the custodial care of the government at the sanitarium. She is provided with free medical services, medicines and food.
Each PAWL receives 220 grams of pork or fish every day, five kilos of rice every week, P20 daily stipend, laundry and bathing soap, aside from medicines and medical care, said Dr. Edgar R. Sarmiento, chief of the facility.
“With government subsidy given them, our custodial PAWLs are better secured here compared to poor ordinary folks outside of the sanitarium,” Sarmiento said. “The basic needs are met and they don’t get hungry here.”
Edwina Rull, a daughter-in-law of Rull and sanitarium records officer and statistician, said the PAWLs came from Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Masbate, Sorsogon, Pampanga, Samar and Quezon.
For medical care, the government spends P117.20 for the occupied bed, P33.40 for medicines, P18.46 for medical supplies and P65.42 for food daily for every patient, Edwina said.
Patients with not more than five body lesions undergo from six to nine months of medication while those with more must complete 12 to 18 months, said Dr. Susan C. Barrameda, chief of clinics.
The government through the Department of Health (DOH) shoulders all the needs of the patients up to the time they die, Barrameda said. Aside from paying for caskets and burial arrangement, the government gives a one-night wake for the PAWL if relatives would allow it.
Barrameda, however, said the sanitarium was now regulating admission and instead encourage home treatment with regular visits to the hospital.
The tablets are in a “blister pack” (packaged like contraceptive pills following a consecutive order with a specific pill to be taken in a given day), she said.
Leprosy, like tuberculosis, is caused by the Mycobacterium bacilli, in terms of its contagiousness. “Thus, the patient could be managed at home.” Barrameda said.
Leopoldo Nicol, 52, who came for treatment in 1974 when he was 15 years old, had long been cured but chose to stay and live under hospital supervision than go back to his hometown in Camalig, Albay.
Nicol said it took him about two months to overcome the painful reality of being a leper. He managed to move on with his life, married a non-leper who was a daughter of a custodial PAWL inside the sanitarium.
He narrated that for years, he was able to save P10,000 from his P60 monthly stipend and used the money to build his own house before marrying Clarita Pantaleon.
Sarmiento said the hospital was distributing 229 hectares of farmland under the government’s comprehensive agrarian reform program to PAWLs still living inside the sanitarium. Each will be given a half hectare of farm lot.
Danilo Belga, barangay chief of San Pedro, said some 450 of 552 households or 2,000 people in the village had settled there.
The Bicol Sanitarium operates like a local government unit, Sarmiento said. It has chapels for Catholics, Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists, a preschool building, a talipapa (wet market smaller in scale than the municipal public market), a detention cell for drunkards, a waterworks system and tricycle units operating inside the compound.
Sarmiento said the rules and policies of the sanitarium are followed although he coordinates with the barangay on some concerns.
He said the sanitarium became a community over time because relatives of the PAWLs came to live with them.