It was in Fiji that the work of the Foundation really began. In 1924, all leprosy patients in the South Pacific were sent to live on Makogai Island in Fiji where they were cared for by the smsm Sisters.
Makogai was closed as a leprosarium in the 1960s and all remaining patients moved to the Twomey Hospital in Tamavua, Suva. This hospital remains the central leprosy and TB hospital in Fiji and is now run by the Ministry of Health.
In 2010 the whole hospital was renovated with a new roof and improved facilities throughout. The Skin Clinic is the centre of Dermatology in Fiji and is a valuable tool in the control of leprosy in Fiji.
Many patients from Makogai were too ill, disabled or afraid to return to their own homes and so made Twomey hospital their home for the rest of their lives. The last remaining residential patient, Polutele Fakatawa from Tonga, passed away in October 2014.
Polutele was born in Tonga and contracted leprosy as a young man. He was sent to live on Makogai and when the leprosarium closed he moved to Twomey hospital where, at first, he was looked after by the smsm Sisters and later by the nurses from the Ministry of Health. He was too afraid to return to Tonga where there was a high level of discrimination against leprosy sufferers and this fear remained with him for the rest of his life. Although often offered the chance to visit his old home and country, he never took the opportunity. His hands were severely disabled, with very little of each finger remaining, but he was able, with the help of special tools provided through the Foundation, to carve shell jewellery and other items which he sold or gave away.
Gradually, over the past few years, fewer and fewer of his old friends from Makogai remained at the hospital until eventually he was the only remaining permanent resident, relying on nurses, and visiting patients for company.
The work of the Pacific Leprosy Foundation in Fiji was previously overseen by Luisa Nasome, Secretary of the Fiji Leprosy Trust Board – a position which she filled for 35 years. Luisa regularly visited all the families affected by leprosy in Fiji – not an easy job as many of them live in isolated communities or on outer islands. She also accompanied the doctors and health workers on their visits to contacts of leprosy patients where they examine family members and close friends for signs of leprosy. They also conduct leprosy screenings in schools and communities where leprosy has previously been discovered.
Sadly, Luisa passed away in August 2016. She will be very much missed by both patients all over Fiji, and by staff at the Twomey Memorial Hospital. We will be appointing someone to take over her former duties as soon as possible and we will let you know once that has happened.