In 1905, leprosy was a rampant, incurable disease everywhere it struck, including in the Bahamas. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is an ancient ailment. The visible signs of it, horrible disfigurement, by the terrible, slow withering away of fingers, feet, faces and all other extremities, struck fear in the hearts of communities, which it infected.
The oldest evidence of it, was found in bones dating back to 2000 BC near India.
In 1905, this disfiguring disease was taking its toll on the poorer communities in Nassau and the Out Islands.
From the book Bahama Islands by Dr. George B. Shattuck, Johns-Hopkins University, Baltimore, we get a brief snapshot, a glimpse into the time of the leprosy epidemic. Shattuck was shocked at the spread of the disease, which was unheard of in the US at that time. A nonchalant attitude by everyone in the Bahamas to it, also seemed to shock him as well. The Government at that time, Shattuck writes, had no facilities to care for leprosy suffers apart from the lazaretto (small hospital). Shattuck also expressed surprise that lepers were allowed to live and associate freely among the communities. In 1905, it was thought that leprosy was highly contagious.
“One of the most important diseases which we studied in the Bahamas,” says the commission, and which was especially interesting to us on account of its rarity in this country was that of leprosy. This disease is rapidly becoming, and in fact already is, quite prevalent among the islands. With the exception of the lazaretto at Nassau, the government has provided no means of isolating or caring for the people suffering with this horrible affliction, and it is for the purpose of bringing this matter to the attention of the authorities that much of this discussion has been undertaken. The condition of these people is wretched in the extreme, and is itself a matter which should demand prompt attention on the part of the authorities. But what shall be said of the other aspects of questions when I state that public opinion is so lax that not only is little done to ameliorate the condition of lepers, but they are actually allowed to run at large through the communities in which they live and associate freely with their fellows?”